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George Benson: Salt Song

AAJ Staff By

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One could argue that Creed Taylor helped create the "smooth jazz" or "NAC" sound when he produced (or overproduced) some very commercial Wes Montgomery albums in the 1960s. But considering how much great jazz he produced for CTI in the early-to-mid 1970s, we can forgive Taylor for his role in the "smooth jazz" nightmare. At CTI, the general idea was to record jazz that was adventurous and risk-taking, yet accessible and open to rock, soul and funk influences. And as these three reissues demonstrate, Taylor often accomplished his goal tastefully.

Freddie Hubbard's CTI output of 1970-74 was a triumphant "middle ground" for the passionate trumpeter—it wasn't the all acoustic "straight-ahead" stuff he'd been doing at Blue Note, nor was it the schlocky, embarrassing "elevator muzak" he would later provide at Columbia. Recorded in 1970, Straight Life was Hub's superb follow-up to Red Clay = and is among his best albums ever. The 13-minute "Mr. Clean" and the 17-minute title song incorporate funk and soul rhythms (which give the songs a certain immediacy), but when Hub and distinguished guests like Joe Henderson (tenor sax), George Benson (electric guitar) and Herbie Hancock (electric piano) dig in and blow, it's clear that Straight Life is every bit as improvisatory as his Blue Note releases.

Similarly, Stanley Turrentine's CTI work was neither as "straight-ahead" as his Blue Note albums nor as overtly commercial as his subsequent Fantasy sessions. Though not in a class with Sugar or Don't Mess With Mr. T, Salt Song is an enjoyable and decent album that has its strong points—including interpretations of Hubbard's "Gibraltar," Milton Nascimento's "Salt Song" and the traditional gospel song "I Told Jesus." Whether he's interpreting gospel or Brazilian music, the tenorist's playing simply oozes with blues feeling.

Benson was five years away from the mega-platinum success of Breezin' when he recorded 1971's entirely instrumental Beyond The Blue Horizon, an excellent date employing organist Clarence Palmer, bassist Ron Carter and drummer Jack De Johnette. From the haunting "Somewhere In The East" and the mellifluous "Ode To A Kudu" to a funk influenced version of Miles Davis' "So What," Horizon reminds us how great an improvisor he was before making pop/R&B singing his main priority. Another high point of the album is the congenial "All Clear," which bears a definite resemblance to Breezin's title song.



Reprinted with the permission of Myrna Daniels and L.A. Jazz Scene , the largest jazz publication in Southern California.


Title: Salt Song | Year Released: 1998 | Record Label: CTI Records

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