'The title track has a heavy rock beat, and not much to recommend it'
Pop winds blowing through jazz
George Benson turned to jazz-pop after an initial stint with the masters, and Breezin', just reissued, is his definitive commercial hit
George Benson: Breezin'
Like many jazz musicians of the '70s to '90s, George Benson first established himself as a talent in straight-ahead jazz and then turned to the much more lucrative genre of jazz-pop fusion. He had earlier worked with respected elders as a blues and jazz guitarist, as well as occasional vocalist, in the '60s.
This album, released in 1976, is still his definitive commercial hit and thus a natural choice for a reissue that would suck in money. That could be at the cost of turning off jazz purists who might want to know more about his talent without subjecting themselves to the kind of rock sound that was influencing pop at the time. If, however, they are sufficiently interested in acquainting themselves with his jazz abilities to tolerate the rock/pop influences, the album would not be unrewarding. Which of course implies that listeners with more catholic jazz tastes would have no difficulty in giving it their attention and being rewarded for it.
The opening and (title) track, for example, has a heavy rock beat and not too much to recommend it, with very little soloing by Benson on the guitar or anyone else. It also has a fairly prominent intervention by the (pop) orchestra conducted by Claus Ogerman that forms part -- a fairly vapid and often prominent part -- of the backing for the music on the album. Other tracks, however, are more interesting. This Masquerade features a strong interplay between three "instruments" that contribute improvised solos: Benson on guitar, Jorge Dalto on acoustic piano, and Benson displaying his varied talents with scat vocals.
Again, one's ears perk up for Affirmation, with its guitar and electric piano solos as well as Ralph MacDonald's percussion, even though twangy electronic effects on guitar vitiate the more pleasant sounds from time to time. Elsewhere Ronnie Foster on the mini-Moog synthesiser contributes a good solo as he sets it to the sound of the soprano saxophone, and in general avoids slipping in some of the more outrageous electronic sounds that are child's play for his instrument.
Published on 24 April 2003
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