George Benson – Give Me The Night – Qwest Records/ Warner Brothers HS3453 (1980) /Pure Pleasure Records (2014) – stereo vinyl, 42:21 ****1/2:
(George Benson – guitar, vocals; Patti Austin – vocals; Lee Ritenour – guitar; Abraham Laboriel – bass; Louis Johnson – bass; Carlos Vega – drums; John Robinson – drums; Herbie Hancock – electric piano, keyboards synthesizer, Fender Rhodes; Greg Phillinganes – keyboards, synthesizer; George Duke – keyboards Paulinho Da Costa – percussion; Kin Hutchcroft – saxophone, flute; Larry Williams – saxophone, flute; Michael Boddicker – synthesizer; Richard Tee – synthesizer; Jerry Hey – trumpet; Diva Grey – vocals; Jim Gilstrap – vocals; Jocelyn Allen – vocals; Tom Bahler – vocals; and others)
Growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, George Benson quickly became a guitar prodigy. He was renowned for his rest-stroke picking technique, popularized by gypsy players, including Django Reinhardt. Benson’s musical ascent started as a sideman with Jack McDuff. There he developed his style of soulful jazz. He signed with Creed Taylor’s label CTI Records, and played on sessions with Freddie Hubbard and Stanley Turrentine. Additionally, he became a solo artist and drew attention for his Beatles tribute, The Other Side Of Abbey Road.
His career trajectory changed dramatically when he signed with Warner Brothers. The 1976 album, Breezin’, earned Benson his first Grammy awards including Best Pop Instrumental Performance and Record Of The Year (a sparkling rendition of Leon Russell’s “Masquerade”). His musical expansion was just beginning. And in 1980, Benson became a bona fide star on the Quincy Jones produced, Give Me The Night. With lavish production standards and all-star ensemble, the album hit Number 1 on both the Soul and Jazz Charts, and peaked at Number 3 on the Billboard Pop Album chart. Benson garnered three Grammys for Give Me The Night. To date, he has received ten.
Pure Pleasure Records has released a 180-gram re-mastering of Give Me The Night. The vinyl format defines the swirling textures of the sumptuous Quincy Jones production (similar to Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall). There are numerous players on every track. Side 1 opens with one of the album’s singles, “Love X Love”. Like many of the songs, it was written by Rod Temperton and reflects the fluid, rhythmic influence of the disco era. Layered instrumentals and vocals envelop Benson’s soulful voice. The backup vocals are arranged with a hint of gospel infection. Benson’s trademark guitar can be heard in this pop r&b confection. Shifting gears (but not that much) is an instrumental “Off Broadway”. Benson is joined by guitarist Lee Ritenour as the funk groove (with horn accents) continues with some jazzy chord changes. There are spirited guitar riffs and a dose of scat. Keeping his jazz roots intact, Benson takes on the James Moody/Eddie Jefferson 1949 classic, “Moody’s Mood”. He pushes the boundaries of vocal phrasing with gauged ferocity and accelerated timing. Patti Austin excels on her part of the vocals. The last cut is the infectious title cut. This exemplifies the meticulous dynamics that elevates pop material. With a big sound, it complements Benson’s accessible vocals. The song has a strong chorus and bridge, with a flawless vocal/percussion/guitar tempo break. It easily stands the test of time.
As much as Jones’ multi-layered production enhanced Side 1, the chemistry is less effective on Side 2. All of the elements (Benson’s dulcet vocals, layered keyboards and backup singing) are present, but at times overwhelm the proceedings. Ballads like “What’s On Your Mind” and “Star Of A Story (X)” (despite a melodic string arrangement conducted by Marty Paich) are moving, though lacking in prominence. However, “Love Dance” (with pristine acoustic guitar by Ritenour) is a moody jazz ballad that works. Also, “Dinorah, Dinorah” benefits from a latin-infused arrangement with cinematic string flourishes and scat. Most of the intricate production on Give Me The Night works. The funky nuances on “Midnight Love Affair” are augmented by groove-filled bass, synthesizer and catchy vocal chorus hook. While it is clear that Benson’s voice is being showcased, his inimitable guitar lines are also present.
Pure Pleasure has done a superior job on this hi-res vinyl. All of the instrumental tonality is full of warmth and exactitude. Benson’s voice is gossamer-like. The complex musical landscape still has a state-of-the-art crispness. The high-gloss gatefold packaging and protected album sleeve are top-notch.
Side 1: Love X Love; Off Broadway; Moody’s Mood; Give Me The Night
Side 2: What’s On Your Mind; Dinorah, Dinorah; Love Dance; Star Of A Story (X); Midnight Love Affair; Turn Out The Lamplight