VOICES Notes and news on Contemporary Jazz releases
17 OCT 11 JONATHAN WIDRAN
Although George Benson's instrumental classic "Breezin'" continues to be a staple of adult contemporary and smooth jazz radio, his incredible success as an R&B vocalist since the late-'70s has tended to overshadow his brilliance as a guitar innovator - until now, with the release of his latest Concord Jazz project Guitar Man.
An old school recording featuring Benson's mighty acoustic and electric fronting a group of swinging jazz greats (including longtime keyboardist David Garfield, Joe Sample, Harvey Mason and Lenny Castro), the 12-track set features a handful of lovely Benson vocals, the most appealing of which are the understated "My One And Only Love" and "Since I Fell For You."
Yet the focus is on unique arrangements and his ample and versatile guitar chops, possibly more than any album he has released since his pop chart heyday. One hopes the experience will inspire longtime and new fans to dig into the multi-talented performer's history and recall that in the '60s, Benson played with legends like Jack McDuff and Miles Davis and established himself as a consummate jazz axeman in the Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery tradition long before he took the mic.
He opens starkly with a brief solo meditation on "Tenderly" before throwing a sly wink at his renowned 1970 work The Other Side Of Abbey Road with a dreamy orchestral re-imagining of "I Want To Hold Your Hand." While tapping into various pop and jazz catalogs (from "Tequila" to Michael Jackson, Norah Jones, Stevie Wonder and John Coltrane), Benson saves his most nimble coolness for a jaunty "Paper Moon" and a hypnotic, tonally trippy (cue the "bagpipes") take on "Danny Boy."