Thursday, June 29, 2017

George Benson - 1976 [1988] "In Concert-Carnegie Hall"

In Concert-Carnegie Hall is a live album by American guitarist George Benson featuring a performance recorded at Carnegie Hall in 1975 and released on the CTI label. The CD reissue added one bonus track and reordered the selections as presented in concert.

In Concert -- Carnegie Hall is George Benson's final recording for Creed Taylor's CTI label, and was mostly recorded on one night in 1975. There was some additional recording done at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in 1976, where Taylor replaced the original rhythm section of Wayne Dockery on bass and Marvin Chapell on drums with Will Lee and Steve Gadd, for whatever reason Taylor had at the time. Regardless, this is a solid "live" effort with Benson cooking on all burners, beginning with a monster version of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five," which had been cut on an earlier album and had become a staple in the live set. Organist Ronnie Foster's backing skills here are indispensable, as they keep Benson talking to the other members of the band. The version of "Summertime" here could have been recorded by Phil Spector. The concert version of the tune -- on which Benson takes a vocal -- has been added to with the substitution of the rhythm section and the later addition of a string orchestra in the studio. (Perhaps Taylor understood Benson's crossover appeal; he would cross over into the pop charts on Warner the next year with "This Masquerade.") The crowd dug it, but it's simply OK over the test of time. Hipper is the long snaky groove of Benson's own "Gone," with begins with the steady pulse of Hubert Laws playing a counterpoint foil on flute. The entwining harmonic interplay between the two is gorgeous and goes on for over ten minutes. The band then takes on Freddie Hubbard's "Sky Dive" with real aplomb. The Latin rhythm and slippery guitar by Benson pull the rhythm section up a notch before he begins the head. His funky articulation of fifths and then eighths in his break is mesmerizing. The way Chapell rides the cymbal like a bell is particularly satisfying. The album closes on another Benson original with Laws popping in again. It's called "Octane." Over ten minutes in length, it begins with Benson in full roar before the time signature changes and triples, feeling like a bebop tune more than anything else. Foster keeps it all grounded, but this baby swings so hard it threatens to lift off. In retrospect, listening to this record in the 21st century, it's difficult to imagine Benson making the switch from a classy guitar firebrand to a pop star so quickly. Mosaic Contemporary has brought out a fine remastered edition on CD.

George Benson – one of his hardest-hitting albums of the time! In a way, the record returns George to his early years at CTI – particularly the album Beyond The Blue Horizon – as the set's got a stripped down smaller group, working in a tight blend of electric jazzy bits that's very nice! Ronnie Foster lays down some great keyboards on the set, Hubert Laws is on flute, and George himself plays a hollow body with a nice soulful tone – stretching out on some straight jazz on most cuts, but also hitting a few of his smoother notes from the mid 70s. Titles include "Take Five", "Octane", "Summertime", and "Gone".

George Benson comes on very much like Wes Montgomery, effectively in tone and style, though Montgomery had that raw touch with his playability, and a more intuitive feel while Benson's sound does rather sound schooled and well disciplined, but the different generation production techniques may have enough to do with that. And, in fact, as well as sounding quite similar both Benson and Montgomery followed much the same paths career wise. They started out as jazz guitar players who simply relied on their virtuoso talent to carry their music through but later on both men would turn their attention to pop like standards and reap commercial success in that direction. While both men would also end up working with producer Creed Taylor who probably had some say in the their watered down if more wider appealing directions. This would be Benson's last album before seeking out newer pastures with a new label and style of music, but while on CTI he was still producing music with little or no pop gimmickery. Live At Carnegie Hall contains Benson at the end of his pure jazz playing days, while not as exciting as his earlier seventies work the album is finely honed and smooth with some fluid and clean guitar. There are four cuts here, and basically Benson lets it all flow out into neat and tidy jams, it all does become a little too conservative though, which allows flautist Hubert Laws some room to move. "Gone", "Take Five", "Octane" are good and show some great guitar skills but Benson's version of "Summertime" is just pop pap. George sings along with the solo here when in fact he should just shut the fuck up and let the guitar do the talking. The frame of "Summertime" is what Benson would do for the next few years. Best stop at this juncture though before anyone gets hurt.

Recorded live at Carnegie Hall, New York City by David Hewitt and John L Venable on the Record Plant Remote Truck on January 11, 1975 with overdubs for the reissue at Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

Track listing:

01 Introduction - 1:17 Bonus track on CD reissue
02 "Take Five" (Paul Desmond) - 5:37
03 "Summertime" (George Gershwin, DuBose Heyward) - 7:24
04 "Gone" - 10:28
05 "Sky Dive" (Freddie Hubbard) - 6:57 Bonus track on CD reissue
06 "Octane" - 10:16

Personnel:

George Benson - guitar, vocals
Hubert Laws - flute
Ronnie Foster - keyboards
Wayne Dockery - bass
Marvin Chappell - drums
Bernard Fennell - cello

Overdubbed:
Johnny Griggs, Ray Armando - percussion
Will Lee - bass
Steve Gadd, Andy Newmark - drums
Unknown string section arranged and conducted by David Matthews

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