It seems that these days the term ‘star’ or even ‘superstar’ is applied to just about every ‘artist’ in the public eye with a typical comment often being ‘star of reality television’ – a real oxymoron if ever there was one. It does annoy me though as it begs the question of how should we then address a real star and whom or what is a superstar anyway? Of course, we will all have our own thoughts on this one but I think everyone on planet Earth would agree that George Benson is a man truly deserving of the accolade.
George Washington Benson was born in 1943 and began life as a jazz guitarist and progressed through soul, jazz, funk and R&B to have a hugely influential and successful career as a popular artist but he always kept his feet well and truly grounded, Benson was and remains an erudite, educated and thoroughly well grounded artist. If you think you know the man just because of his most famous songs then have a look back at his early jazz career and you will be simply astounded at the sheer magnificence of his musical legacy. His is a rare talent indeed and we are privileged that he has chosen to share his prodigious talents with us.
So, onto this new live release and this is, apparently, the first live album that he has released in thirty years so it is well and truly long overdue. The album was recorded in 2019 in the intimate surroundings of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club in Soho and it must be quite a while since George Benson last performed in a venue with just the 250 seats. It is also around fifty years since Benson last played at Ronnie Scott’s which was sometime in the early ’70s when he was the latest hot, young and most gifted artist from the US and on a career path that was going stratospheric.
Having achieved global recognition for his services to the music industry, this album makes it feel like the wheel has turned full circle as George and his tight band take to the stage to what is a truly thought provoking introduction and one that this album starts with “You don’t get stars this big in rooms this small very often, ladies and gentlemen. Please be prepared to be dazzled – Mr George Benson…!! Benson then takes the stage, the crowd go crazy and we are on a quite delightful stroll through the years as Benson plays all of the expected crowd favourites plus a number of well received and beautifully delivered covers. The set list includes most are the singles that the audience has come to hear and George Benson is a man who likes to give his fans what they want. Of course, he kicks off with Give Me The Night quite probably his most well known song but you will be equally surprised at just how many of these songs you remember and all will carry you away on a tide of nostalgia.
However, there is no chance of a stale performance or the songs becoming wearisome because Benson remains a jazzman at heart and the key factors in jazz are improvisation and innovation. The secret to keeping it all fresh and vibrant is that Benson does not plan the show and he makes it more of an improvised event, the songs are known of course but the delivery is made up on the night which is sheer genius and makes every show something of a unique event. The set is well set out with his trademark songs intermingled with some stunning interpretations of other song writers material and have a listen to Dave Bartholomew’s I Hear You Knocking, Donny Hathaway’s The Ghetto, James Taylor’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight and a sublime version of Eddie Jefferson’s Moody’s Mood. His voice is still so beautiful today being golden and mellifluous and he delivers everything as perfectly as you would expect and then his guitar playing is simply heavenly and I think we all occasionally forget just what a stunning jazz guitarist he is and in Michael O’ Neil he has another guitarist who knows how to thrill. His band gives imperious backing with some amazing piano and brass bringing everything to life and this is one concert that you want to go on forever. However, all good things come to an end and the album closes perfectly with the gorgeous instrumental Affirmation before the band finish with Cruise Control from 1998’s Standing Together album and the performance is anything but cruise control as the band finishes the set after putting heart and soul into the performance.
The set lasts 72 minutes and really does run like a ‘Best Of’ and will be another recording for his fans to delight in and a perfect reminder to everyone else that George Benson is the consummate master when it comes to melding soul, jazz, funk and R&B into timeless and perfect music. Unfortunately, we did not receive band details but the backing they gives is incredible and the delicacy of their work is a testimony to their skills and they, and Benson, turn back the years to produce a quite wonderful work that will delight anyone who hears it.
Weekend In London track list
- Give Me The Night
- Turn Your Love Around
- Love X Love
- In Your Eyes
- I Hear You Knocking
- Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You
- Feel Like Makin’ Love
- Don’t Let Me Be Lonely
- The Ghetto
- Moody’s Mood
- Love Ballad
- Never Give Up On A Good Thing
- Cruise Control