Review Summary: George Benson takes an exotic take on post-bop which gives rise to an extraordinary listen.
So a couple days ago I was listening to some Freddie Hubbard, Straight Life(thank you zappa), when I was absolutely blown away by the guitarist on the track. His name was George Benson, and he rocked my world in every sense of the phrase. So I immediately decided to check out some George Benson, whom I have heard of but had foolishly overlooked. The first album I downloaded(legally too, hooray for ruckus) was Beyond the Blue Horizon. I had no idea what I had gotten my hands on.
Beyond the Blue Horizon is a post-bop masterpiece. This is an album rife with bluesy jazzy licks, mellow organ lines(courtesy of Clarence Palmer), and of course, Ron ***in Carter. Jack DeJohnette also throws down some hard ass drum fills, and occasionally exotic conga beats.
So What - 4.4/5
Benson kicks off the album with a harder, up-tempo version of the classic Miles Davis track. I'll admit the track is better than I rate it, but I'm extremely biased towards Miles Davis, and it's not fair to compare any other musician to him. Benson starts off repeating the immortal base line, but with his own rhythmic take(faster, more energetic). The first to take the solo is Clarence Palmer, and he does a fine job. This is also a great chance to listen to some great comping from Benson. After Palmer, Benson takes the stand, flourishing in between improvised progressions. Then Benson goes into some nice trills and he takes a brief psychedlic detour(this is '71). I love psychedelia, in fact it's what got me into jazz, so I have no complaints. Now Carter takes his turn. The is a very unique solo for him as he makes use of two strings at once(I seriously can't believe I don't know what that's called). Then Benson sneaks back in and shortly reintroduces the bass line and takes another turn at improv before closing the track discreetly. It's damn good stuff, but unfortunately for Benson I end up comparing everything in my head to Miles, making it impossible for me to impartially review this track.
The Gentle Rain - 4.3/5
This is a moody, latin influenced track. The organ works very well on this track and really sets up a clear mood for the piece. This is also the first track to feature some free commentary by Carter with his bow. They're little otherworldly flourishes that are easily over looked on the first listen. This is also the first instance of the congas, which also help set the latin mood. DeJohnette is very good on here, but it's not his best work on the album. Benson gets most of the solos here and does a very good job, but this is probably his blandest playing on the album, not that it is bland, it just isn't on the same level as the rest of the tracks. All and all a good listen and song, but there's better to listen to here.
All Clear - 4.7/5
All Clear is one of the poppiest songs on the album. It kicks off with an extremely bright, hard-edged guitar riff. Then it goes into the chorus which is the pop part of the song. A very light joyful chord progression with a slight island breeze, reminiscent of the upbeat Return to Forever tracks. Unfortunately I am not a big Return to Forever fan, and personally the chorus is a little too sappy for my tastes, dragging it down from a 5. This is the second track to feature Ron Carter with a bow, experimenting in an unusually free style. The kind of free that would John Cale kills to achieve with distorted viola. The organ does not particularly stand out, although it certainly does not take away from the song at all. DeJohnette plays very well on this track, taking on the task of trying to kick up the song with energetic playing. George Benson plays some of his best on this track, with his warm, round, and slightly distorted sound. There are some ingenious internal chord progressions(improvised of course) from Benson, and he displays his masterful knowledge of chordal improv, throwing in fractured chords that beautifully bring out the distortion in the guitar.
Ode to a Kudu - 4.6/5
This is Benson's mellowest and gentlest track. It plays like a poetic ode. This track contains no organ, so Benson successfully takes up the part of playing the chords along with his improvisation. There's a lot of gentle single strums and Ron Carter on bow. DeJohnette also tones down his playing significantly to match the gentle, pensive mood of the piece. This is where Benson really shows his learning under Wes Montgomery, with a more mellowed jazzy approach to improvisation. Benson tries hard to capture more of the gentle beauty in his improv, rather than relying on his trademark blues touches.
Somewhere in the East - 4.8/5
If you couldn't tell, this closing track is heavily influenced by eastern rhythms and tonality. The song is centered around one repeating theme at the beginning of the song and is restated in between each improv attempt. The congas are blissfully exotic. It's the kind of drumming you could lose yourself in just listening to alone. This is also Bensons most adventurous improv, marking a brief but leaping departure from his accustomed harmonies, progressions, and scales. He also utilizes some nice, psychedelic bending, a rare move for Benson. When it comes to eastern jazz, hes no Coltrane, but he certainly more than holds his own. Ron Carter is also exotically dark and moody in this piece, with some occasional free forays into the upper register that really liven up the piece. What can I say, I'm a sucker for free(not atonal though). It ends with a nice, not overly dramatic cadence. Then for me it goes into the first track of The Shape of Things to Come, but that's a whole other review.
All Clear, Somewhere in the East