Benson revels in his new, commercial direction.
Daryl Easlea 2012
In Flight was the first time the UK public really became aware of George Benson. A former child prodigy, Benson had been recording consistently since the early 60s, breaking through by playing with organist "Brother" Jack McDuff.
With his Wes Montgomery-style improvisations and unmistakable sound, Benson became one of the most respected and inventive jazz guitarists. His string of recordings for Verve and Creed Taylor’s CTI earned him a place in the hearts of many aficionados.
His 1976 album, Breezin’, changed all that. Signing to Warner Bros. and teaming up with veteran producer Tommy LiPuma, Benson’s reading of Leon Russell’s This Masquerade reintroduced his audience to his vocal prowess, which had been somewhat underused to date. A beautifully plaintive voice was revealed on that record, almost on par with Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway.
Breezin’ became a surprise No.1 album in the US, and Warner Bros. clearly wanted more. As a result, 1977’s In Flight had four vocal performances and just two instrumentals – the highest vocal quotient of any Benson release to date.
In Flight is, to all intents and purposes, the same album as Breezin’. Working again with LiPuma and the same band, including Jorge Dalto on keyboards and Phil Upchurch on rhythm guitar, with Verve Records veteran Claus Ogerman adding subtle and seductive string arrangements, it is lush, orchestral and smooth.
Recorded in the heart of LA, it is an achingly uptown album, and the choice of material is impeccable. For many it was all about the opening track, Benson’s beautiful version of Eden Ahbez’s Nature Boy, so long associated with Nat King Cole. The closing eight minutes of Everything Must Change almost make a case for prog jazz-funk.
Elsewhere, War’s relatively recent The World Is a Ghetto and Hathaway’s majestic Valdez in the Country are both covered enthusiastically. Morris Albert’s Gonna Love You More is impossible to listen to without breaking into a big, broad smile. Benson’s vocals are impeccable throughout, as is his trademark guitar playing, mimicking his vocal scats.
In Flight was a sweet, subtle continuation of Benson’s new commercial formula. The album reached number 19 on release and accelerated Britain’s love affair with Benson, which reached its apex in the mid 80s with his chart-topping compilation, The Love Songs.