George Benson has managed to sustain a hugely successful career for over 50 years. His guitar playing has married Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery’s styles to spectacular effect while his vocals continue to combine the best of Stevie Wonder and Donny Hathaway. Almost critic-proof, he’s equally at home in the soundworlds of Miles Davis and Dionne Warwick; his record sales far exceed anything in the ‘jazz’ world but he can always reel off a killer bebop-tinged guitar solo when things get too safe.
Hats off to George or his management for choosing Christian Scott to open for him – a brave and intriguing choice. He’s one of the young trumpet and flugelhorn stars, recently standing in for Miles in Marcus Miller’s ‘Tutu Revisited’ project. His natty get-up (leather pants, polka-dot shirt a la Prince circa 1988) and magnetic stage presence belied a set pitched somewhere between ECM-ish minimalism and an almost indie-rock sensibility courtesy of guitarist Matthew Stevens. Scott’s soaring flugelhorn was frequently reminiscent of Kenny Wheeler, while drummer Jamire Williams had the left hand of fusion masters Narada Michael Walden and Omar Hakim.
Benson made his entrance to the world-famous ‘Breezin’ intro, every inch a star in leather black shirt and striped silver jacket. A slinky ‘Love X Love’ was dedicated to Bluey from Incognito before Benson unleashed his amazing vocal chops on ‘Moody’s Mood For Love’. If anything, his singing seems to have improved with age, with a much fuller mid range these days and some stunning high notes. ‘Nothing’s Going To Change My Love For You’ and ‘In Your Eyes’ had couples canoodling all over the venue while ‘Turn Your Love Around’ and ‘Give Me The Night’ turned it briefly into Studio 54 circa 1981. A killer sequence of ‘Lady In My Life’, ‘Tequila’ and ‘This Masquerade’ brought back the jazz element. Benson wore a shocking pink blazer for the encore and chatted with the audience, enquiring who had been at Adele’s famous recent RAH gig before closing with a rousing 15-minute ‘On Broadway’. All in a day’s work for a great entertainer and effortlessly brilliant guitarist/vocalist.