The New Boss Guitar of George Benson With The Brother Jack McDuff Quartet

George Benson / Brother Jack McDuff Quartet

Prestige, 1964

http://www.georgebenson.com

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 01/14/2017

When you think of George Benson, chances are your mind goes to his signature songs “Breezin',” “Give Me The Night,” or his live take on “On Broadway”. But for all the success that Benson enjoyed in the late '70s and early '80s, there was a lot of time in the trenches building up his name and reputation.

It's why I'm surprised that on his debut album, The New Boss Guitar Of George Benson, the guitarist more often than not takes a back seat to other members of the Brother Jack McDuff Quartet, and his string work, especially when he's playing leads, is buried in the mix.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Granted, Benson seems like the kind of person more than willing to share the spotlight – something he often does with keyboardist McDuff and saxophonist Red Holloway. But when you are feted as the star of the album, wouldn't you expect to actually be able to hear his playing? Instead, for the first half of the album, Benson's guitar work sounds sadly muted on tracks like “The Sweet Alice Blues” and “I Don't Know.” Meanwhile, the listener keeps waiting for the band to explode into some jazz you can sink your teeth into – and they come close on “The Sweet Alice Blues” and “Shadow Dancers” – but songs like “I Don't Know” and “Just Another Sunday” sound tentative, as if the band is afraid of pressing down on the musical gas pedal.

When Benson is finally allowed to come to the forefront of the band's sound is when things finally start to get interesting. “Will You Still Be Mine” is easily the best track on this disc, with smooth, fluid playing by all band members. And while Benson never showboats just to display his skills, he does showcase his talent just enough to let the listener know that he is a force to be reckoned with. Likewise, “Rock-A-Bye” is probably the tightest song for Benson and McDuff's quartet, with good interplay between Benson, McDuff and drummer Montego Joe. If there were more moments like this on the disc, it would be a jazz masterpiece.

It's sad, though, that often the playing, while good, seems to lack the hunger that some have come to expect in jazz, especially in a time when the genre was bursting at the seams with new talent. Make no mistake, Benson's name belongs in that echelon as well, and The New Boss Guitar Of George Benson is a good, if mildly flawed, first step into those waters. But it's not often that you hear the boss made to become the second banana in the act.

Rating: B

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