George Benson: Beyond The Blue Horizon (2011)
George Benson has worn many hats throughout his career, from jazz-pop vocal star to soulful six-stringer, but his guitar god persona is probably exhibited best by Beyond The Blue Horizon (CTI, 1971). This album arrived five full years before Benson's popularity would explode with Breezin' (Warner Bros., 1976), and it presents this powerful instrumental presence in a no-nonsense, small group setting.
Benson worked briefly with the great Miles Davis, as a guest on Miles In The Sky (Columbia, 1968), and he opens this album by nodding to the trumpeter with an updated take on his "So What." Bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack DeJohnette drive this performance, as it constantly shifts from funk to up-tempo swing to a half-time feel, and provide strong support for solos from Benson and organist Clarence Palmer. DeJohnette and Carter seem to have a telepathic bond on this one and, once the spotlight shifts toward the rhythm section, they're so cagey that it becomes difficult to tell if it's a bass solo with drum accompaniment or vice versa.
Palmer's organ is the stabilizing force as Luiz Bonfa's "The Gentle Rain" gets underway, and Benson makes sure things aren't too gentle here. "All Clear" is the first of three Benson originals which closed out the original album and he provides sunny chordal melodies that light up the track. "Ode To A Kudu" begins with some harp-like flourishes and flowing licks from Benson's guitar before the band eases into this calm, ballad-like display of artistry. While Benson's tone possesses some bite on the other tracks, he takes a a gentler approach on this one.
"Somewhere In The East" is the most experimental track on the program, with dueling hand drum work from percussionists Michael Cameron and Albert Nicholson, along with suggestions of sitar coming from Benson. While alternate takes of all three Benson originals are presented on this reissue, this track is the stand-out because it presents a greatly expanded take where the band seems to be more relaxed and willing to open up. While the significant difference in length might explain the choice to put the shorter take on the original album, the alternate version is superior in some wayswith its Santana-meets-India vibeand it's capped off with a killer guitar coda to boot.
Four decades separate the original release of the album and this reissue, but it's still plainly obvious that Beyond The Blue Horizon is beyond what most instrumentalists ever achieve, and one of the crowning jewels in Benson's discography.
Track Listing: So What; The Gentle Rain; All Clear; Ode To A Kudu; Somewhere In The East; All Clear (Alternate Take); Ode To A Kudu (Alternate Take); Somewhere In The East (Alternate Take).
Personnel: George Benson: guitar; Ron Carter: bass; Jack DeJohnette: drums; Clarence Palmer: organ; Michael Cameron: percussion; Albert Nicholson: percussion.