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Benson – In Flight – Warner Brothers

Benson – In Flight – Warner Brothers 0798 (1977)/Pure Pleasure (2017) stereo vinyl, 37:56 ****:

Jazz guitarist’s foray into pop sounds great on re-mastered vinyl.

(George Benson – guitar, vocals; Phil Upchurch – rhythm guitar; Ronnie Foster – electric piano, Mini-Moog; Jorge Dalto – clavinet, acoustic piano; Stanley Banks – bass; Harvey Mason – drums; Ralph MacDonald – percussion; Claus Ogerman – orchestra arrangements/conductor)

As the rock era waned in the seventies, many other genres were waiting in the wings. Funk, punk, reggae and heavy metal emerged with an unexpected return to elaborate studio production. A lot of the inspiration for this came from the renewed interest in dance, especially the disco phenomenon. Artists gleefully jumped on the bandwagon, including jazz artists like George Benson. Benson came to prominence as a twenty-one year old guitarist with Jack McDuff. He eventually fronted his own band and recorded for CTI. But when he signed with Warner Brothers, he released the Grammy-winning album, Breezin’ , that including the hit crossover single, “Masquerade”. Now the veteran guitarist was a bona fide popular singer. This transition defined his future career path. 

Pure Pleasure Records has re-mastered Benson’s 1977 release In Flight to 180-gram vinyl. The audio results are excellent, with highly-developed lush instrumentations and arrangements. Side One opens with the Nat “King” Cole surprising 1947 hit, “Nature Boy”. Like that version, this re-make is awash in gossamer strings (especially in counterpoint) to underscore the classical undertones. At times utilizing vocalese with guitar, Benson’s soulful vocals (he was compared to Stevie Wonder) are accessible and buoyed by synthesizer riffs and Ronnie Foster’s electric piano solo.  The band covers a Foster composition (“The Wind And I/AKA Hot Stuff) as the disco show rolls on. Benson is prominently featured on guitar with trademark, fluid play. When the side finishes with the War funk-rock classic, “The World Is A Ghetto”, the exorbitant orchestration feels out of place and the urban anger is missing. The song’s captivating melody is approximated, but the break lacks urgency.

Side Two continues the musical concept with some minor adjustments. “Gonna Love You More” is a laid-back pop-soul ballad with subtle funk undercurrents. Jorge Dalto adds a smooth piano solo and the arrangement benefits from flutes and percussion. Escaping from the vocal formulations, “Valdez In The Country” is the album’s lone instrumental. The Jobim/Deodato-inspired Latin vibe is refreshing. Benson shines on guitar, and the band peels off into contemporary jazz mode. The big finish is a gospel-tinged ballad (“Everything Must Change”) that runs a bit long.

The highlight of In Flight is the impeccable re-mastering to audiophile vinyl. Benson’s soothing voice is captures with glowing tonality. The stereo mix is even. The ever-present orchestra is maintained at an appropriate level and doesn’t overwhelm the vocals and guitar. The high-gloss gatefold is top-notch. It is a glimpse into 1977 musical culture.

TrackList:
Side One: Nature Boy; The Wind And I (AKA Hot Stuff); The World Is A Ghetto
Side Two: Gonna Love You More; Valdez In The Country; Everything Must Change

—Robbie Gerson

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