George Benson: The Essential George Benson

This set is more than a guitar compilation-it’s practically an overview of modern jazz and pop production. The two-disc set takes us from 1963 to 1980, with tracks produced by John Hammond, Creed Taylor, Tommy LiPuma and Quincy Jones, among others. Loosely speaking, disc one gives us George Benson the jazzer: early sides with Jack McDuff, masterpieces from It’s Uptown and The George Benson Cookbook, “Sugar” with Stanley Turrentine, “Paraphernalia” with Miles Davis and more. Disc two highlights Benson the pop-jazz and R&B trendsetter with “Breezin’,” “Give Me the Night” and so forth. For the finish, Benson joins Dexter Gordon, Cedar Walton, Percy Heath and Art Blakey on a take of Gordon’s “Gotham City.” (The result is curiously anemic.)

An extraordinary musician by any standard, Benson comes close to redeeming some horribly dated CTI material, including “White Rabbit,” a landmark in schlock. There are also highlights from other key players-don’t miss Kenny Barron’s Rhodes solo on the 1974 Don Sebesky arrangement of “Take Five.” Write off the R&B tracks if you must, but they’re flawlessly realized. “This Masquerade” is a model of pure, economical soul singing. “On Broadway” appears in a 10-minute live version.

David R. Adler

David R. Adler writes about jazz and assorted topics. His work has appeared in JazzTimes, NPR Music, WBGO.org, The Philadelphia InquirerThe Village Voice, DownBeat, Time Out New York, and many other publications. From 2010-2017 he taught jazz history at the Aaron Copland School of Music (Queens College-CUNY). In summer 2017, after 30 years in New York (apart from two in Philadelphia), David relocated with his family to Athens, Georgia. There he continues to write about music and perform solo as a guitarist/vocalist.