Weekend in London
Provogue Records/Mascot Music
During his six-decade career the all-time jazz great George Benson has amassed 37 studio albums, eight previous live recordings, 22 compilation albums, and countless recorded sessions as a sideman. Benson is also the holder of ten Grammy awards. The Pennsylvania born veteran has played the world’s biggest venues so it’s refreshing when we get to hear him perform in an intimate night club setting. The seventy-seven-year old Benson states “I like that kind of intimacy, I can feel the love when it’s up close and personal”.
“Weekend in London” was recorded in 2019 at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, a famous London venue. Benson continues to describe Kevin Shirley’s dynamic production, “We captured a lot of the atmosphere…it was very crowded, like it always is at Ronnie Scott’s, no matter who’s there. We were almost touching as we were playing, people all up on the bandstand. But I’m always happy in those surroundings…it was a fantastic night.” Benson, guitar and vocals; was accompanied by Randy Waldman, MD and keyboards; Stanley Banks, bass; Thom Hall, keyboards; Michael O’Neill, guitar and vocals; and Kham Parker, drums. Also contributing are Lilliana de los Reyes, percussion and vocals; and backing vocalists Daniel Mifsud, Jade MacRae and Mahalia Barnes.
This live set is a comprehensive performance as it pays attention to Benson’s significant career peaks and most frequently requested songs. Benson adds “Basically, the whole show is improvised except the melody itself and the ensemble playing, we play the arrangements, to remind the audience what song they’re listening to, but then we can go crazy and do all the improvisation.” Benson opens with, “Give Me the Night”, the title track from his 1980 Warner Brothers album. The song resulted in Benson winning a Grammy for “Best Male R n’ B Vocal Performance”. That same album garnered Benson two more Grammies, as his cover of “Moody’s Mood”, won the “Best Male Jazz Vocal Performance”. Also included from the same album is the fan favorite “Love X Love”.
Jose Feliciano’s “Affirmation” is from Benson’s 1976 Grammy winning album “Breezin’”. Other charting singles performed include 1979’s “Love Ballad”; “Turn Your Love Around” and “Never Give Up on A Good Thing” from 1981; “In Your Eyes” and “Feel Like Makin’ Love” from 1983; “Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You” from 1985; and Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto” recorded in 2000.
Covers include James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight” from Benson’s 2009 album “Songs and Stories” on Concord Records; and Fats Domino’s “I Hear You Knocking” from producer Shirley’s first Mascot Records project for Benson, the 2019 studio album “Walking To New Orleans”. Benson states that the closer, “Cruise Control”, first recorded in 1998, “is one of my favorite instrumentals because it was completely off the cuff, I kept getting ideas as we got into the song and one of the ideas was to inject vocal inserts at different places during the improvisational part of the performance.”
This fabulous live concert can also serve as a career retrospective, and is among Benson’s most intimate performances.