Tuesday, March 10, 2020

This Week In Jazz: George Benson

A quick glance at George Benson's discography shows a mininum of 50 records released since his Prestige debut in 1964. Without thinking too hard, I believe I have heard 3 of them in their entirety, as well as the various pop singles he released in the 80's. I have never doubted his ability to play the guitar. I can't say the same regarding his career decisions. Some of his 90's records were straight up schmaltz, and his most recent release "Walking To New Orleans," caught my eye for obvious reasons but failed to keep me interested beyond the first weak minutes of the first two tracks. Benson is 77 years old, and though his takes on Chuck Berry & Fats Domino failed to move me, I won't be too critical. He's done enough.

All this aside, a copy of his 1970 CTI release "Beyond The Blue Horizon" found its way into my life and I decided to give it a spin after reading a bit about it. This is what All Music had to say:

The payoff is a superb jazz session where Benson rises to the challenge of the turbulent rhythm section of Jack DeJohnette and Ron Carter, with Clarence palner ably manning the organ. Benson is clearly as much at home with DeJohnette's advanced playing as he was in soul/jazz (after all, he did play on some Miles Davis sessions a few years before), and his tone is edgier, with more bite, than it had been for awhile. A must-hear for all aficionados of Benson's guitar. 

I'll admit I knew nothing of George Benson before "Breezin" became a huge smash in 1976. It's an infectious melody with a perfect groove, but not my type of jazz at all. If you have seen and loved the film "All That Jazz, " then you must certainly have a thing for Benson's "On Broadway." But even so, I cannot get behind hits like "The Greatest Love Of All," and most of the smooth R&B and lazily labelled jazz Benson has churned out for so many years...which is why "Beyond The Blue Horizon" surprised me in all the best ways.

His take on the Miles Davis classic "So What" which opens the set, his fresh and funky. And as All Music states, it feels like Benson is "edgier, with more bite" than anything I have heard before.

Granted, long time Benson fans who might be reading could be thinking, "You idiot. His first 10 records are all fantastic!" If that is the case, please say so. Listening to "Blue Horizon" feels like I discovered someone new and not a seasoned veteran, Grammy winner and music legend. I want more of THIS.


Anonymous said...

I'm not a huge jazz aficionado nor have I heard much of George Benson, but I do know that if you see a release on CTI from the 60' or 70's, it's probably worth checking out.


Anonymous said...

definitely the earlier the recording, the better for Benson. CTI put out Wes Montgomery's late 60's albums and I think they thought they had something similar in George. I have friends who like the White Rabbit album, but the Don Sebesky arrangements are sometimes distracting. Best are probably Body Talk with the DeJohnette/Carter rhythm section and Bad Benson where Sebesky keeps the arrangements simple. all the others are, to varying degrees, overly orchestrated (Other Side of Abbey Road), rely too much on 70's studio pros (Space) or have halfhearted vocals. Another CTI album George was featured on was Freddie Hubbard's Sky Dive.

Anonymous said...

I'm a fan of "It's Uptown," from 1966, his first album, I think, for Columbia. I wouldn't want to make too great claims for it, but it's fun and vital and still sounds fresh. Check it out! When I first bought it in like 1977 -- it was maybe the third jazz album I ever bought; I knew the name George Benson and it was a cut-out -- I was surprised to hear "Summertime" on it. I had thought that was a Janis and Big Brother song. Ha ha ha.

CTI is such an interesting mixed bag of a label. Some great stuff, some real schlock. The first jazz album I ever bought was Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay," which I still love. At their best those records do a good of bringing genuine jazz into a popular idiom. Was just listening to Stanley Turrentine's "Salt Song" the other day and really enjoying it.

Bruce H