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Bad Benson CD
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Not being much of a reviewer, all I can say is that some of my favourite artists are playing on the album such as Phil Upchurch - guitar, electric bass, percussion, Kenny Barron - piano, Ron Carter - bass and Steve Gadd - drums. It's also on the CTI label - a label that produced a lot of quality jazz/ cross over jazz throughout the 70's.
I love every track but if there's one I play the most it's my Latin Brother - the funk, enegery in that track around the simple melody always lifts me. The the hauntingly good Changing World is also a track I love.
Not sure why this album hasn't been reviewed yet but, in my view it's highly recommended.
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I must confess that although George Benson is a pretty good singer, George Benson the jazz guitarist appeals to me far more than George Benson the vocalist. And as a jazz guitarist, most of his finest work was done while under contract to the famed CTI jazz label. Among the many fine albums he cut for CTI, Bad Benson ranks near the top.
There is a lot of great music on this CD which opens with an exuberant arrangement of Paul Desmond's Take Five that is among the best interpretations of that classic that I've heard. Other favorites from the original issue are inspired renditions of Benson's own My Latin Brother and the Phil Upchurch composition, No Sooner Said Than Done.
Two of the three bonus tracks really are "bonuses" that add immeasurably to the enjoyment of this recording. First, there is a fine rendition of the famed Take The "A" Train, but what really puts the CD over the top is a 13-minute jam written by CTI house arranger Don Sebesky called Serbian Blue. With Benson on lead, Phil Upchurch on rhythm, Kenny Barron on piano, Ron Carter on Bass, and Steve Gadd on drums, Serbian Blue becomes one of the finest extended jams of its time.
Bad Benson is definitely essential Benson. This is not only one of Benson's best CTI recordings, it is in the top five of all his recordings. If you are a George Benson fan and haven't heard this yet, you are in for a real treat. I recommend that you order it immediately.
I got the CD mainly for "Take Five", the Paul Desmond tune made popular by Dave Brubeck and for "Full Compass", which is another very unusual but satisfying composition written by Phil Upchuch. I've had both tunes on cassette for years and have always loved them. But since getting this CD, I've now also grown to love "My Latin Brother", one of Benson's own compositions and "No Sooner Said Than Done" (also written by Upchurch), with its cool sound effects. I can't quite work out if the effects are connected to the guitar or to the keys but they make the song much more interesting to listen to. Benson is backed by a solid rhythm section as is always the case with Creed Taylor productions - including Rob Carter on bass and Steve Gadd on drums - but most notable on this album are Kenny Barron on piano and Upchurch on rhythm guitar, (and on electric bass on "Full Compass" and percussion on "My Latin Brother" and "Serbian Blue"). The orchestration is arranged and conducted by Don Sebesky.
The three "New Mix" bonus tracks were apparently recorded as part of the same session but timing restrictions imposed by the old LP format meant they couldn't be included. I have mixed views on them. Take "The "A" Train" doesn't really do anything for me and to be frank, the damned whistle gets on my nerves. "Serbian Blue" is the killer track. A Don Sebesky composition and over 13 mins long, to me it goes many places and says many things. As for the closer, "From Now On" (which has Benson playing solo guitar) all I can say is that I sorely wish it were a bit longer. At only 2mins 20 secs, just when I'm really getting into it, it's all over.
Ah, well. It's still a very enjoyable CD. Not quite up there with "Beyond The Blue Horizon" but a definitive five star set nonetheless
PS. Another cool route to some good value vintage George Benson is via the "Compact Jazz" series from Verve. They've got a full roster; from Count Basie to Stan Getz to Gerry Mulligan to Sarah Vaughan. I recently picked up two Wes Montgomery CDs from the collection, one by Dinah Washington and Compact Jazz: George Benson. It features songs from Benson's earlier work like the 1967 album "Giblet Gravy" among others and features guest artistes like Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham and Jimmy Smith. Well worth a look.
Of all the albums Benson recorded for CTI, this is my absolute favorite, and the one I would recommend to anyone interested in exploring his work for Creed Taylor.
At this point in his career, Benson's style was fully developed and on this album, an amalgam of bop, blues, funk, and Latin influences, you get to hear him at his best. Supremely confident and playing with incredible power and fluidity, Benson just tears through the material. The album starts off in high gear with an uptempo funkified version of Dave Brubeck's "Take Five". The sheer technical prowess Benson exhibits on this cut is exhilarating, yet never is his playing devoid of soul or complex harmonic ideas. "My Latin Brother", "Full Compass", and "No Sooner Said Than Done" are equally brillant. In fact there is simply not a weak track on the entire album.
Relying more on interpretation that original compositions here Benson starts out in a guitar duet mode with Upchurch on "Take Five",Paul Desmond's west coast jazz classic from his Dave Brubeck era. Considering how that song helped invent new time signitures for jazz anyway it helps Benson reimagine his own sound too as he lets the songs uniquely patterned rhythms guide him into some of his most creatively stimulating playing. Softer tunes such as "Summer Wishes,Winter Dreans" and "The Changing World" find Benson playing in his now firey style over more sudtle rhythms,giving it all the more drama. On his own original "My Latin Brother" and Upchurch's "No Sooner Said Than Done" both get into a strong uptempo jazz-funk vibe again,in both cases getting into some strong percussion. Now for some SERIOUS musical fury Upchurch's dizzying "Full Compass" has it all-a frantic tempo,atonal harmonic improvisations and some DANGEROUS solos from Benson and Upchurch.
This album is also home to three exellent bonus tracks. One being a spirited jazz-funk take on Billy Strayhorn's "Take The "A" Train" and Don Sebesky's twelve minute+ "Serbian Blue",an almost Steely Dan-like 70's jazz-pop/rock fusion with Benson taking full advantage of the extended lengh for some inspiring rhythm and lead soloing. If it's not Benson himself tearing it up here,it's Upchurch or Ron Carter making his bass vamps moo like a cow. That matched with some often superhuman-seeming drumming from Steve Gadd,one of the few people who could probably keep up with these guys, this album is hot and heavy. While it doesn't have as much of the bubbly,supple approch of the previous few albums before this it showcases Benson's musical vision in a different manner than before. His playing is more dramatic,the music more theatrically funky. And no matter what's said this album emerges as one of his finest.