George Benson Beyond the Blue Horizon Review

BBC Review

In the company of Ron Carter, Jack DeJohnette and Clarence Palmer, this reissue of...

Peter Marsh 2002

Back in the late 60s, George Benson was considered the natural successor to Wes Montgomery. Bensons mastery of funk, his smooth tone and fluent harmonic conception marked him out as the next big thing in jazz guitar. Except it didnt quite turn out that way of course; the mid 70s saw George recasting himself as a smooth jazz soul balladeer who happened to play a bit of guitar. Much like Nat King Cole a couple of decades earlier, Benson was able to make the transition from jazz to commercial success, and who can blame him (bet hes got a better pension plan than Jim Hall...).

Anyway, rewind to 1971 and here's George in full flight with Miles Davis alumni Ron Carter and Jack DeJohnette, organist Clarence Palmer and the obligatory brace of latin percussionists. Unlike the occasional cocktail vibe of some of his other CTI releases, Benson is on fiery form throughout, adopting a trebly, occasionally biting tone, soaked with blues, juicy Wes like octave phrases and speedy bop runs. His solo on "The Gentle Rain" (written by Luis Bonfa, better known for "Black Orpheus") is a peach; nibbling out bluesy chromatics and exaggerated vibrato, sometimes firing off rapid chordal volleys.

"Ode to a Kudu" is a restrained chordal outing, somewhere between Joe Pass, BB King and James Blood Ulmer. The latters skewed Delta Blues harmolodics are evoked in "Somewhere in the East", where a spot of retuning gives the guitar a sour, oud like sound (even though the melody hints at "Strangers in the Night"). Bensons at his most exploratory here (especially on the bonus longer out take included here).

Palmers bass pedals take care of most of the bass parts, while Carter yends to stick to odd glissed phrases with the bow (which is sometimes not a great idea), or high pizzicato figures shadowing Bensons guitar. Hes at his best holding down the bottom end on the second take of the lovely "All Clear", or the opening "So What", where he gets a long duet in with the ever reliable DeJohnette, who seems happiest when Ron is in swinging mode. Palmer is restrained throughout, opting for a soft, warm tone, but theres no doubt whose show this is. A reminder that though Georges career switch may have made him considerably richer, it left the jazz world a bit poorer. Recommended.

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