WBGO Radar

Ben Sidran: "Blue Camus"

ben sidran blue camus

Ben Sidran is a renaissance man. A jazz griot who has enlightened our world through award winning radio and television programs.

Through books like There Was A Fire, which culturally connected Jews, music and the American dream; and music, where his soulful, funky scripts make us hang on every word, every beat, every rhythmic tale.

The Times of London referred to him as "the world's first existential rapper!"

His life in music ain't over. In fact, his jazz and philosophy breathe boldly on Blue Camus, his upcoming release on his own Nardis label. 

Ben describes his motivation for the project:

"Camus, the classic hipster, as I see him, was a reader of literature and a lover of philosophy, particularly, during the bebop era of the 40s and 50s.

"The starting premise of Camus' existentialism is like jazz, in that we begin with a world of open possibilities and rely on our own experiences and emotions to figure out the next move.

“For Camus (and the beboppers) all thought originates in action just as all jazz music originates in swing, not notes."

To tell his stories, Ben has his voice, piano and Wurlitzer piano alongside organist Ricky Peterson, bassist Billy Peterson, Sidran's son Leo on drums, saxophonist Bob Rockwell and vocalist Trixie Waterbed.

With "Soso's Dream" Ben reminds us of the fine line between fallin' and flyin', laughin' and cryin', told in hipster syncopation.

The title track, "Blue Camus," was inspired by Camus' The Stranger. A funky feature made to move and think, Sidran encourages self-discovery:

"If you don't say what you want, want what you say, you just hanging in the cut between avant and passé."

Inspired by George Orwell's Animal Farm, "A" Is For Alligator" depicts a time when "all the animals would play inside the bathtub," a strong message in our era of confining walls which selectively separate.

"The King Of Harlem" was inspired by Federico Garcia Lorca's "Poet In New York." Sidran's piano intros a rhythm of New York feel, where the rhythm relieves the feeling of isolation in a sea of people. Rockwell's saxophone brings this Spanish tinged number close.

"Rocky's Romance," an instrumental, has the band in a funky feature for the listener to imagine their own homegrown story.

With "Wake Me When It's Over," the heartbeat of drummer Leo Sidran gets the blood running to Ben's observations about the rage against the light.

It was inspired by Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures In Wonderland. A hopeful look when one wakes up, Sidran exclaims "lead, follow or get out of the way."

"There Used To Be Bees" is another funk-filled instrumental inspired by Michael Pollan's The Botany Of Desire, showing human desire parallels with the ways we selectively breed plants.

Ben Sidran makes you think. But he does it in his world of swing, not notes.

A fascinating read. An even more soulful check on you and your surroundings.

Blue Camus comes out April 28. He appears at Mezzrow in NYC May 22 & 23.

    - Gary Walker, WBGO music director

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