George Benson

Guitar Man
Concord Jazz
George Benson

While Benson is a fine soul singer, some have been frustrated that his guitar has often taken a back seat on records full of vocals. There are a couple of vocals here, but for the most part it’s Benson playing, including a few occasions of him flying solo, providing melody and harmony with no accompaniment. In fact, the record opens with a two-minute version of the classic “Tenderly” that is all Benson. He mixes the familiar melody with gorgeous chordal work, proving his playing skills haven’t diminished at all.

There is no shortage of interesting material, like the Beatles’ “I Want To Hold Your Hand,” which gets a pop/ jazz makeover of the kind on his smash Breezin’. He does step a bit out of character by soloing on a nylon-stringed acoustic as opposed to his usual electric. After stating the melody, his solos display dazzling runs that dance through the changes with double-stops and octaves. As clichéd as “Tequila” could become, Benson and a cast of great players like Joe Sample, David Garfield, and Harvey Mason manage to breathe new life into it. It has a Latin-jazz feel that does not mimic anyone’s version, including Benson’s mentor, Wes Montgomery. “Danny Boy” is an unlikely suspect, but it works perfectly – from Benson’s simulating bagpipes in the intro to his magnificent solo.

While it’s not the straight-ahead jazz that informed his early career, Guitar Man is an affirmation (pun intended) that he’s truly one of the greats in jazz guitar history.

This article originally appeared in VG‘s Jan. ’12 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.

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