North American music still has great pioneers at the bottom of the barrel, but also some of them for lack of claiming even more. One is George Benson, one of the most interesting musicians mixing styles with black pedigree like soul, funk and jazz.
Still alive, Benson is a walking encyclopedia, a veritable sound binder that passes through his guitar filter to create exciting music. Disciple of Miles Davis, with whom he worked on Miles in the Sky In 1968, he was released solo on producer Creed Taylor’s label to stand out as an oiled piece of music. His guitar had a unique and vibrant style, a field of new possibilities that spoke in his own language, following the path of giants like Wes Montgomery, one of his most direct influences. Disks like Tell It Like It Is, Beyond the Blue Horizon Y Body Talk attest to his particular way of handling a gentle rhythm, to which, at times, he offers pangs of funky. He was taking jazz out of its own mold.
But I stop at a wonderful album: Breezin. It was the work for which Benson in 1976 became a pop superstar. He achieved a milestone: reaching the top of the pop charts from the territory of jazz, and, even more, from instrumental jazz, even if it had a sung song. It’s a gentler variation on the jazz and R&B flavored work he had been doing in previous years. Breezin it is taken to a territory as pleasant as it is perfectly constructed. He remembers the light Van Morrison, when he manages to make everything flow like a calm and luminous flow, surrounded by soft orchestral backdrops. A smooth jazz of true quality, with an agile guitar. It is seen in instrumentals such as ‘Six to Four’ or ‘Affirmation’ but also in the only sung composition, which catapulted him to the top: ‘This Masquerade’, in which he showed a sweet and cajoling voice that resembled that of Stevie wonder.
Breezin It has been reissued by Rhino Records. Commemorating the undeniable impact of black music over more than a century in popular culture history, Rhino Records celebrated last February what it called the Black History Month, a month dedicated to releasing a series of vinyl reissues and digital releases of some of the most iconic albums. The series was cinnamon stick with reissues of Donny Hathaway, Jungle Brothers, Aretha Franklin, Curtis Mayfield, Ray Charles Nina Simone, Adina Howard … All these black artists created the soundtrack of the cultural, social and political revolutions in the second half of the twentieth century. His music is still current. It is the case with Benson as well. Jazz guitar pioneer, seeking accommodation in excellent settings.
Some have criticized Benson for being too light, excessively loose. Certainly, during his career he has sinned sugar with records and concerts, but in his best music disparate black sounds are concentrated that transforms them into an absorbing flow, a golden horizon of black music without being visceral or abrasive. He has carried the sanbenito of being a creator of “elevator music”, but nothing is further from that when listening to his best works, such as Breezin. Beyond such a damaging label, he is closer to a Paco de Lucía, whom he admires above good and evil and considers one of the best guitarists of all time. Because, like Paco de Lucía did ‘Entro dos aguas’ and so many songs that brought flamenco to pop audiences, Benson’s guitar offers that leap from jazz territory. Quality assured.