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Jazz - Released May 23, 2000 | Verve Reissues

George Benson is well embarked on the third phase of his career, and Absolute Benson, though unfortunately titled (it sounds like a compilation, but is actually an album of new recordings) is another in a series of consistently excellent CDs that characterize it. Benson excited traditional jazz fans in the 1960s and early '70s with his albums of inventive guitar playing on Columbia, A&M, and CTI, records that made him seem the logical successor to Wes Montgomery. Then, in 1976, he moved to Warner Bros. Records and recorded Breezin', featuring the single "This Masquerade," on which he sang, and suddenly he became a million-selling pop vocalist who happened to play guitar, seemingly the logical successor to Nat "King" Cole. That, of course, made him anathema to traditional jazz critics. After a decade, however, his pop success began to diminish, and by the end of the decade he was making another move -- to contemporary jazz. By the 1990s, he was restricting his vocal excursions to a few tracks on each disc, and his albums began to top the contemporary jazz album charts consistently. His move from Warner Bros. to GRP, a label devoted to contemporary jazz, confirmed the transition. Absolute Benson is his third GRP release, and on it he turns in a varied set, accompanied by Joe Sample on keyboards; Carlos Hernandez or Christian McBride on bass; Vidal Davis, Steve Gadd, or Cindy Blackman on drums; and Luis Conte or Luisito Quintero on percussion. Four of the nine tracks feature vocals of one sort or another. On the leadoff track, "The Ghetto," Benson (accompanied by five background vocalists) sings a few words, and on "Come Back Baby," he takes a real lead vocal, while on "El Barrio" and "Medicine Man" he only scats along with his guitar playing in his familiar style. But none of these performances is a conventional pop vocal performance. Similarly, Benson flirts with various pop music styles, covering Donny Hathaway's "The Ghetto," Stevie Wonder's "Lately," and Ray Charles' "Come Back Baby" for elements of R&B and blues, while "El Barrio" has a Latin feel. But he employs these styles as flavorings, the main course of which always remains his melodic guitar playing. His lead work in "Jazzenco" is particularly notable, but throughout the disc he plays with assurance in a manner his fans will recognize and appreciate. If it is difficult to crossover from jazz to pop, crossing back can be just as treacherous. Benson's oldest fans, who later became his detractors, still may not be satisfied with his current approach, but it has deservedly won him a secure place in contemporary jazz. © William Ruhlmann /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1968 | Verve Reissues

No, you're not in Creed Taylor country yet, but you might as well be, for many of the ingredients that would garnish Benson's albums with Taylor are already present in this often enjoyable prototype. The immediate goal was to groom Benson as the next Wes Montgomery (who was about to leave Verve) -- and so he covers hit tunes of the day ("Sunny," "Along Comes Mary," "Groovin'"), playing either with a big band plus voices or a neat quintet anchored by Herbie Hancock, and the sound is contoured to give his guitar a warm mellow ambience. But the eclectic Benson is his own man, as his infectious repeated-interval rhythm trademark tells us on his self-composed title track, and despite Tom McIntosh's mostly lame arrangements, George's work is always tasty and irresistibly melodic. © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released June 15, 1984 | Verve Reissues

Most of the tracks from Benson's two Verve albums, Giblet Gravy and Goodies, were deposited here in one of the label's earliest CDs. As such, it exists to plug a small hole in the collections of Benson fans, for it is hardly a prime choice if you want a representative Benson sampler. © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released December 3, 1968 | Verve Reissues

Verve needed one more album from Benson after he signed with A&M/CTI, and ended up with a strange grab-bag in which Benson plays superbly throughout, whatever the odd goulash of sounds in back of him. Horace Ott's string arrangements are overbearing in scope and undernourished in tone; at times they don't even seem in sync with Benson's group. The big band tracks -- "Song For My Father" in particular -- are more tolerable, and the gospel singing of the Sweet Inspirations is harmless. There is one high-spirited Benson vocal, "That Lucky Old Sun," and it strikes fire. Perversely perhaps, the choice cut is a surprisingly hard-driven "Windmills Of Your Mind," in which Benson fights off the cheesy arrangement with some powerfully rhythmic work (watch out for the shattering psychedelic ending!). © Richard S. Ginell /TiVo
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Jazz - Released September 23, 1997 | Verve Reissues

As guitarist George Benson morphed from playing with chitlin circuit organ combos to becoming a pop vocalist, these sessions in 1968 formed a transition, and were a prelude to his works for the CTI label. There are five tracks each from the recordings Giblet Gravy and Goodies, featuring horn sections, takes on Top 40 hits, the funky go-go instrumental boogaloo sound of the day, and a slick approach to production values. Included as asides are a lone soul-jazz-blues number with organist Jimmy Smith, a lone jazz standard ("Song for My Father"), and a take on Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" backed by gospel/R&B vocalists the Sweet Inspirations. It's certainly not the best Benson of any era but far from the worst, and does give insight into where he was to go in the commercial music world. © Michael G. Nastos /TiVo
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Jazz - Released January 1, 1987 | Verve Reissues