Weekend In London at Ronnie Scotts out 13th November on Mascot Label Group
George Benson’s new live album capturing his 2019 performance at London’s intimate 250-seat Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club. Only a handful of lucky fans were present as the went down that magical night in 2019. But now, Kevin Shirley’s dynamic production is your invitation to slide onto Ronnie Scott’s red velvet banquette, call for a scotch on the rocks and catch the sparks as Benson’s honeyed vocal and fluid licks drive the finest live outfit in modern jazz.
“We captured a lot of the atmosphere on ‘Weekend In London” says Shirley. “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 to be in those surroundings. A lot of big Benson fans were there – and some of the screaming ladies. It was a fantastic night.”
In these strange times that will make 2020 stand out as a milestone in your life, the year you stayed in the clubs and venues fell silent. We can turn up the volume capture the live vibe with songs that soothe, are familiar old friends with the velvety tones of George Benson on Weekend in London. This is music that fills a stadium, played in the intimate surroundings of Ronnie Scotts cheered on by an appreciative audience the ambience is cherishing, George is singing directly to you. There is a tangible connection between yourself, the musicians’ and the audience, we are more than eavesdroppers at the event.
Opening with Give Me The Night, before the music… the compère “You don’t get stars this big in rooms this small very often, ladies and gentlemen. Please be prepared to be dazzled – Mr George Benson…!” In these few words, my review is summed up this is a live album that sparkles.
George Benson returning to the club after forty-five years opens the album with a classic, a song we all want to hear him perform live. Left for an encore no the song to set the scene. Wow, George and the band are on fire.
The fourteen songs selected to appear on the album are a selection of the songs the lucky few who were in the audience in 2019. A show to be cherished, I am positive no-one would imagine that soon sitting in front in front of your favourite musician will be a distant memory. The album captures musicians that are still finding ways of re-interpretation of the songs they have played numerous times. Little nuances in timing and tempo keep the songs we know so well fresh with a vigour. No number is delivered as if George and the band are going through the motions this is not the musical equivalent of painting by numbers. It is music that has heart, would and passion that flows deep into your listening veins.
The opening of forty-five seconds of Love X Love is an instrumental delight, Benson’s guitar work is sublime – it makes you want to sink into an instrumental track, be patient you get your wish, the penultimate track is Affirmation, written by Jose Feliciano and a Benson hit from his 1976 album Breezin’.
Two covers are given the Benson treatment, Dave Bartholomew’s, I Hear You Knocking which is a collaboration of vocals George and the backing vocals and the piano a re-imagining of a hit we know so well. The controlled edginess re-ignites the song, reminding the listener why it was so popular. Warm applause and then we are launched into Donny Hathaways, The Ghetto. Sung with gusto, feeling the emotion of the words is captured with deep soulful insight.
The album is fourteen highlights, two tracks that stand out for me are Nothing’s Gonna Change My Love For You. Released by George in 1985 and written by Gerry Goffin /and Michael Masser, This is a song that for me defines George Benson’s romantic canon of songs that are part so many musical backgrounds of life. The other is Never Give Up On A Good Thing, a track from 1981 that just gives you everything, soul, jazz woven into uplifting lyrics and tone.
The album closes out with Cruise Control an ‘instrumental with voice. Yes, voice is heard but as an additional syncopating instrument not as a vehicle for lyrics. This is free-form music of the highest calibre. Five minutes of bliss closes out the album
Weekend in London just keeps on giving over the seventy minutes of listening pleasure. I recommend that you turn down the lights, pour yourself your favourite tipple, shut out the world and immerse yourself in George Benson’s lush sounds, a comforting and exciting musical hug.
Bluesdoodles rating: A Wonderful album full of soul and sparkles with the vibrancy of live music played in an intimate venue
1. Give Me The Night
2. Turn Your Love Around
3. Love X Love
4. In Your Eyes
5. I Hear You Locking
6. Nothing’s Gonna Change
7. Feel Like Makin’ Love
8. Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
9. The Ghetto
10. Moody’s Mood
11. Love Ballad
12. Never Give Up On A Good Thing