Jazz guitar duel of 1976: George Benson vs. Jeff Beck

Posted on Wed Aug 29 2007 at 11:25 am in the category 1970s, Beck, Jeff, Benson, George, Jazz and Blues -- Copyright notice

Listen as you read: “Breezin‘” (audio snippet)

Ok, I’ll admit it: I’m biased and the winner is a foregone conclusion. Through the luck of the draw, I recently ended up with two jazz guitar records from the same year (the first for ¢.10 and the other for a mere buck–both in excellent condition with almost no unwanted ticks or crackle).

In one corner (I know I’m mixing fighting metaphors but you get the idea) is George Benson with his album Breezin’ (1976, © Warner Bros. Records Inc.). In terms of Jazz guitar (of the easy listening brand) Benson is perhaps best known for the title track “Breezin‘” . His success with this and other tunes on this album made his crossover to R & B quite smooth and his albums increasingly included lyrics with Benson singing (see the wiki article here).

I don’t think any guitarist familiar with jazz would doubt Benson’s skill and consistency in playing, but this album is definitely heavily marked by its time and the string arrangements seem out of place. It brings me back to childhood in some dentist’s or doctor’s waiting room, in some ways, and you might even suspect you are in an elevator as it now plays. It does have some funky charm, however. In my opinion, Benson will not win this duel.

Listen while your read: “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat” (audio snippet)

Album design copyright CBS Inc.

In the other corner is Jeff Beck with his Jazz fusion album Wired (1976, © CBS Inc.). As a rock guitarist, Jeff Beck has a good pedigree, one could say (official Jeff Beck website). When Eric Clapton left the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck took the position and he was soon joined by Jimmy Page (of Led Zeppelin fame) (see the Rollingstone Yardbirds biography and discography here). The Yardbirds’ music can be considered a sort of psychedelic form of R & B. Beck had difficulty getting along with others in the band and was soon onto his solo career.

Beck primarily went the instrumental root and Wired was his second solo album. As a Jazz fusion album, this one rocks and the range of Beck’s guitar playing is outstanding. Among the calmer tunes is Beck’s excellent cover of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat“. The range of sounds that Beck can produce with a guitar are particularly noticeable here. The groove is definitely there as well.

Beck’s Wired will definitely remain a staple in my listening while Breezin’ may not (I haven’t taken the time to remove any ticks from Benson’s track as you’ll notice, which is a hint).

Who do you think wins the duel? Post a comment (top of entry) and let me know.

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