George Benson ‘Inspiration: a tribute to Nat King Cole’ (Concord) 4/5

While George Benson was growing up as a young boy, one of his main musical idols was pianist and vocalist Nat King Cole and when Benson finally made the transition from solo jazz guitarist to vocalist, ‘Nature boy’ was among the first recorded examples of his newly found status. This new album pays homage to the lasting legacy of Nat’s work and provides a well balanced mixture of orchestral and more intimate combo settings which reflects Cole’s own musical eclecticism. The Henri Mancini Orchestra are on hand to ably assist George Benson and so with great aplomb as on the swinging take on ‘Just one of those things’ which is a truly uplifting performance from all and the song shifts in tempo between mid and high with some delightful jazzy orchestrations and Benson himself engaging in a trademark guitar and scat duet. A more pared down sound greets the listener on ‘Route 66’ and we are treated to some fine piano trio plus an extended guitar solo from the leader. For some old-style jazz with jazz group vocals, ‘Straighten up and fly right’ is a winner, hinting at Manhattan Transfer, and features a lovely piano solo. In a gentler vein, the new take on ‘Nature boy’ is a beautiful interpretation that is considerably slower than Benson’s 1970s version and here the orchestrations include a strings intro with flute and violin solos while on ‘Smile’ the famous ballad is treated to a gentle rendition with solo by Brönner and some gorgeous understated flutes. The singer even sounds as though he has been taking in the influence of Frank Sinatra on the uptempo ‘I’m gonna sit right down and write myself a letter’ and here he sings straight with some lovely brass and piano arrangements. Top drawer guests include trumpeters Till Brönner and Wynton Marsalis and master percussionist Sheila E better known for her collaborations with Prince. Tim Stenhouse

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