Wolf Marshall has been industriously turning out transcriptions and re-recordings of major jazz guitarists' soli for about three years now. "Best of George Benson" is one of his early efforts in this vein, and has since been joined by works on Wes Montgomery, Charlie Christian, Grant Green and Joe Pass.
The book is balanced roughly equally between Benson's early recordings and his later CTI and commercial career. The early studies include the "Easy Living" chord solo from "The New Boss Guitar of...," "Clockwise" and "Stormy Weather" from "It's Uptown," "The Cooker" and "The Borgia Stick" theme from "The George Benson Cookbook," and "Billie's Bounce" from "Giblet Gravy." The CTI phase of his career represented in this book and recording includes "So What" from "Beyond the Blue Horizon," "Body Talk" from the album of the same title, and "Take Five" from "Bad Benson." "Breezin'," "This Masquerade," and "Affirmation" are all from 1976's "Breezin'." The book closes (somewhat incongruously) with "C-Smooth" from 1998's "Standing Together."
The transcriptions are clearly printed, meticulously detailed, and annotated by Wolf Marshall, who draws upon years of transcription and guitar performance experience to discuss departures from conventional chord changes, unusual passages, and linkages to past and contemporary jazz musicians. The transcriptions typically include the introductions and heads of the tunes as well as Benson's solos. Marshall's choices of material scruple to adhere mostly to Benson's more important work while giving a chronological overview of Benson's evolution. In this light it's easy to see why there's such a focus on "Breezin'"- arguably Benson's most important album in terms of his own career, and also possibly the single most influential album of the Benson oeuvre - even though most guitar nuts might prefer Benson's exciting explorations of the early 70s (even those from other leaders' albums - it's a shame licensing for transcriptions doesn't apparently extend to albums by Freddie Hubbard). The inclusion of "C-Smooth" from 22 years after "Breezin'" seems almost an afterthought. One can almost hear Marshall saying "...and now he's doing this..." but without much evolutionary context, it's not as appreciable, perhaps. Still, there are limits to what both media and market will accept, and I am very grateful to have access to as much insight as has been granted here.
The recording is beautifully (and very clearly) done by a small group led by Marshall, who does an admirable job of replicating the early frenetic Benson of "...Cookbook" as well as the comparatively mellow Benson of "Breezin'." The audio has been mixed with the guitar to one side so that the CD may be used as a play-along as well as an audio reference.
All in all, this is really wonderful work, documenting as it does the uniquely American art form of jazz guitar, and helping its legacy inform the future. I look forward to other and forthcoming volumes in Wolf Marshall's series.