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Benson anthology a history of smooth jazz

By George Benson

Rhino Records: 2000

This review first appeared in the December 15, 2000 edition of the American Reporter.

Before there was Kenny G or Bob James or Ottmar Liebert or Rick Braun or any of the other smooth jazz stars, there was George Benson. With his silky vocals and those rich, fat sounds he pulled out of his hollow-body guitar, Benson scored pop hits with soft-jazz songs like "This Masquerade," "On Broadway" and "Turn Your Love Around" in the late '70s.

If the term "smooth jazz" hadn't yet been invented, in Benson's hands the music was already there – an updated version of '60s easy listening that owed more to Herb Alpert and Al Hirt than it did to Lawrence Welk or Ray Conniff.

Benson borrowed heavily from R&B, and was an outstanding musician to boot. He'd actually begun his professional career as a respected jazz guitarist in the '60s; charges of "selling out" from hard-core jazz fans have continued to dog him throughout his career.

All his big hits and more are on this two-disc collection, presented in chronological order. The earlier straight-ahead jazz starts off the set, although for most Benson fans it may seem a bit alien. As this collection also illustrates, he's continued an active career through the present (and presumably beyond), even if the hits no longer come.

Still, the question remains: Who but the most hard-core Benson fans will want this two-disc set over his earlier "George Benson Collection" (which lists for less than half as much as this box set)? All the big pop hits are on that collection as well, albeit without the more recent material or the informative 46-page booklet.

Okay, to answer the question: jazz fans who remember Benson from his more artistically explorative days may prefer this set, as will those who simply appreciate great guitar playing.