Weekend In London
In 1978 George Benson released Weekend In L.A. It’s one of my all-time favourite records; one of the albums of my childhood. We grew up with it in our house – and we loved both the guitar instrumentals (the title track) and the funky band workouts (On Broadway). We even liked the vocal-showcase ballads (The Greatest Love of All). Turns out the album was a business card, basically. A way of selling Benson to a new label – he’d been a child prodigy, a jazz wunderkind and then, after L.A., he churned out successful soul-pop with disco tinges and reminders of his great jazz chops via the scat singing and stinging solos, sometimes combining them to thrilling effect.
And the career moved on through the 90s and 00s and he kept putting on great shows (I saw him twice, both blinders) and just as the safety of doing tributes to Count Basie and Nat King Cole had him working as basically crooner-for-hire he returned to flat out fire with last year’s Chuck Berry-inspired set of bluesy rock’n’rollers.
Now he returns to the world of the live album – Weekend In London is basically Weekend in L.A. some 40+ years on. The scene now is Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, a tiny stage for a career as big as Benson’s. He jams in there with his killer band and plays the hits.
It’s all very good. Of course.
Opener, Give Me The Night, is usually a set-closer or encore but on this night it’s right up front and followed swiftly by further early 80s triumphs, Turn Your Love Around and Love X Love.
We get to the balladry with In Your Eyes and if Benson sounded a bit parched doing the 80s hits at a faster clip when he slows things down the voice is still there. James Taylor’s Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight is another ballad highlight. But it’s the funk workouts and the jazz solos that really thrill. So though there’s no On Broadway, so often a live staple, it’s replaced here by Donny Hathaway’s The Ghetto. The band churning out the groove, interpolating a bit of Santana’s Oye Comma Va with the congas and drums thriving.
Moody’s Mood and Affirmation are mid-career classics from Benson. He serves them up and they still serve him well in return.
It’s a class act. Just as he is. And though you might still really feel the proper burn and fire when listening to the L.A. record from 78 – Benson’s age will reach that number on his next birthday. So to have him around is one good thing alone. To hear him sounding this good is something that goes above and beyond. It’s a surprise that it’s been so long between live albums. He’s a master. A legend.
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