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Guitar Man


After a recording hiatus lasting two years, George Benson has issued Guitar Man,his third project for Concord Records. It is an oddly relaxed date (by all accounts featuring minimal rehearsal, and first- or second-take captures), yet distinguished by Benson's peerless authority. Few musicians command their moment as does Benson.
But while the 12-tune offering offers a window into Benson's considerable talents as singer and instrumentalist, its main liability might be the casual nature of the recording. It features material drawn from the worlds of pop, jazz, and r&b loosely drawn and assembled with the stated intent of creating a live experience feel. The production strategy, however,  delivers unintended results - the tracks feel thrown together with an approach that conveys haste rather than spontaneity.
Still, it is hard to find fault with a master whose clinical dissections of "Tenderly" and "Danny Boy" - solo reads rendered in a contrapuntal chord-melody style - showcase an indisputable level of greatness. Few guitarists could toss these off so effortlessly. A similar problem dogs the tracks featuring Benson's singing. While he flexes in the folds of his signature vocals ("My One And Only Love" and "My Cherie Amour" are excellent examples), one senses he can do this stuff in his sleep. The chops are there, the passion and conviction less so.
Even with a strong track like "Paper Moon" - aided  by stalwart accompanists Joe Sample and Harvey Mason, joined by recent Monk Competition winner Ben Williams - Guitar Man fails to showcase fully the baddest string-slinger we've got. Instead, it catches him polishing his ax, assuming we’ll be blinded by the brilliance.


All We Are Saying

(Savoy Jazz)

Recent media coverage of Living In A Material World, Martin Scorsese's biopic on George Harrison, piqued my interest in Brill Frisell's new album, All We Are Saying, the guitarist's homage to John Lennon and the Beatles. Frisell, we know, is a cross-genre specialist. He cares little for the labels or categories attached to his work. Instead, he freely melds his influences - staunchly American elements drawn from jazz, rock and country - into a singular style that he alone owns. He is an easy mark in a blindfold test.
As a youth, by Frisell’s own accounts, the songs of the Beatles weighed heavily on his musical development. Here he hews close to the iconic records covering all stage of Lennon’s career, eschewing any urge to reinvent through abstraction, preferring instead to capture and distill the material's structural essence. It's a fooler: at first blush, it appears Frisell is handling with care, gingerly tip-toeing around sacred terrain. Further scrutiny reveals that he is exploring the song forms and familiar recorded arrangements with painterly dispatch, tracing their contours but then filling out his canvas with understated, signature distinction.
The sound he creates on All We Are Saying is unique to his bands, a form of Americana equally at ease with popular musics of all stripes - from Burt Bacharach to Burl Ives, John Coltrane to John Lennon. Much of the credit belongs to his cast: violinist Jenny Scheinman, bassist Tony Scherr, fellow guitarist Greg Leisz and drummer Kenny Wolleson.
As if to underscore Lennon’s own musical inspirations - the muses in his life - the best tracks on All We Are Saying include “Julia,” “Mother,” and “Woman.” They are poignant songs, painful and sweet. Frisell gets it, bows and plays his guitar. The renditions speak well for all.



altJeff Levenson is a label executive, writer-producer, and jazz journalist. His affiliations include posts at Half Note, Sony, Warner Bros, Downbeat and Billboard. He currently produces the annual Thelonious Monk Instrumental Competition, and has authored and/or produced events for the NEA, the US State Department, the White House, the New School for Social Research and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. His credits include collaborations with Michael Brecker, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Bela Fleck, Arturo Sandoval, and McCoy Tyner. He has produced and/or supervised six Grammy albums - 2 winners, 4 nominees. He currently chairs the National Jazz Committee for the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, serves as Board Governor for its New York Chapter, and digs the company of jazz musicians.

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