The George Benson Quartet - Cookbook

The George Benson Quartet Cookbook (Columbia 1966)

There are two, maybe three or four George Bensons. However, for straightforward jazz fans, there’s only one: the cat that made gritty, in-your-face soul jazz albums like 1966’s Cookbook.

The George Benson Quartet - Cookbook

Personnel

George Benson (guitar), Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone), Lonnie Smith (organ), Jimmy Lovelace (drums), Marion Booker (drums)

Recorded

From August 1 – October 19, 1966 at Columbia Studio, NYC

Released

as CS 9413 in 1967

Track listing

Side A:
The Cooker
Benny’s Back
Bossa Rocka
All Of Me
Big Fat Lady
Side B:
Benson’s Rider
Ready And Able
The Borgia Stick
Return Of The Prodigal Son
Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid


For those fans, listening to George Benson after 1966 is like the obligatory New Years Drink from your employer. Damn, is guessing who’s been under the sheets with whom the only game around here?. Ok, one might answer the demure jazz buff, next time bring your turntable, light things up a bit, you crank. And the fifty-something who grew up on a diet of Average White Band and Santana might add, hey pal, George Benson did record some awesome stuff after ’66.

Sure he did. Except most of it is drowned in an overstuffed sound soup of strings, harp, flute, synth and, yuk, strings from the synth. A&M and CTI albums like The Other Side Of Abbey Road (1970) and White Rabbit (1972) are, notwithstanding the heavyweight line-ups of, among others, Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter, technically exceptional elevator muzak affairs, no less. If it wasn’t for the greasy, steamroller beat of drummer Idris Muhammad, 1968’s The Shape Of Things To Come would’ve been nothing more than schlock for the building constructors working on the streets where you live. Then again, few are prepared for My Latin Brother from Bad Benson (1974), a smoking, exotic and sizzling Latin tune with a quintet line up from the matured guitar player. And the highlights of Benson’s big break as a smooth jazz star in 1976, collected on Breezin’, are, despite their schmaltzy coating of synth, pretty darn good courtesy of the experienced, first-class session players – take So This Is Love. The only thing it needs is the voice of Barry White. Next thing you know one of sixteen vestal virgins appears from out of the blue, ready to sign up for Procol Harum’s harem.

As early as early 1968, when Benson was still a soul jazz guitarist, there were hints of radio-friendly formatting. His album Giblet Gravy has both the low-down dirty blues, injected with typical lightning-bolt fingering, of Groovin’ as the saccharine take of the ultimate crowd pleaser, Bobby Hebb’s Sunny. In fact, he’s singing an r&b-type version of All Of Me on Cookbook that could’ve done well on the jukebox market. George Benson has always been the kind of performer that succeeds in recording bubblegum ditties in the afternoon and play steamin’ r&b at night. Organist Greg Lewis told Flophouse that he regularly tried to sit in as a woodshedding Hammond B3 player in the early nineties in a Manhattan club, sometimes succeeding to replace one of the accomplished organists for a tune or so. Occasionally, Benson, at the height of his fame, would drive his limousine up the sidewalk, park, get in and join the band on stage. Nobody cut George.

Cocksure at heart. Benson was like that when he first hit the scene as a sideman with organist Brother Jack McDuff in late 1963. By no means arrogant, instead playing with a joy of discovery that is contagious. In McDuff’s band, the youngster, who sang professionally as a kid, still played the kind of r&b guitar style from his teenage years, although the influence of his heroes Charlie Christian and Grant Green (interpreted in fast forward motion) were readily discernible. Displaying quicksilver runs, a biting attack, torrents of foul-mouthed but impeccably placed blues phrases, Benson heated up both studio and stage to temperatures uncommon even in New Jersey or New York City summer season. Dig Benson’s fireworks on YouTube, footage of the McDuff Quartet’s 1964 performance at Antibes, France, here.

After a string of albums with McDuff and his debut album on Prestige, The New Boss Guitar Of George Benson, the guitarist had signed to Columbia, releasing It’s Uptown in 1966, with one of those grandiose subtitles I’m sure musicians weren’t too fond of, The Most Exciting New Jazz Guitarist On The Scene Today. It was a thoroughly exciting group that Benson had assembled and baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber, organist Lonnie Smith and drummer Jimmy Lovelace (alternating with Marion Booker) also gathered for the Cookbook session, still more tight-knit as a unit, delivering a hot barbecue of spicy ribs and saucy side dishes. There’s the opening tune, The Cooker, a strike of stop-time thunder, evidence of the group’s effortless breakneck speed swing and Benson’s fast-fingered blues wizardry. Perhaps already the highlight of the album, which yet doesn’t take anything away from the remainder of the repertory, including other Benson originals like the gentle Bossa Rocka and Big Fat Lady, a perky r&b tune that could easily pass for the background to Jimmy Hughes on Fame or Hank Ballard on King.

Benson gets his kicks with licks on Benson’s Rider, a boogaloo-ish rhythm perfectly suitable for the deeply groovy Lonnie Smith. Benson wrote the The Borgia Stick for a mafia television series, a lush greenery for the mutually responsive soul jazz cultivators, who are effectively aroused by sections of tension and release. The nifty Jimmy Smith tune Ready And Able presents the burgeoning talent of baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber to full effect. He’s like the cookie monster that’s gotten a shot of rhythm&blues, soulfully eating up the breaks off the I Got Rhythm changes.

The other horn player on the date, Benny Green, happened to walk into his friend George Benson on the street prior to Benson’s session. Benson invited Green over to the studio to join the proceedings. Such is the unique nature of jazz and its practitioners, that sheer coincidence may be turned into a musical advantage. Green’s uplifting, swinging style is an asset on Benny’s Back (which was written on the spot by Benson and refers to the fact that Green was also present on Benson’s first Columbia LP) and the swing-styled jam Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid, the longest track on an album that keeps warming the hearts of ‘early-Benson-fans’ around the globe.

Lou Donaldson - Midnight Creeper

Lou Donaldson Midnight Creeper (Blue Note 1968)

Of the popular jazz funk dates alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson did in the late sixties, Midnight Creeper is one of the best. It’s a driving date involving a mellow-blowing leader among a bunch of talented sidemen that were becoming successful leaders in their own right.

Lou Donaldson - Midnight Creeper

Personnel

Lou Donaldson (alto saxophone), Blue Mitchell (trumpet), George Benson (guitar), Lonnie Smith (organ), Idris Muhammad (drums)

Recorded

on March 15, 1968 at Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey

Released

as BST 84280 in 1968

Track listing

Side A:
Midnight Creeper
Love Power
Elizabeth
Side B:
Bag Of Jewels
Dapper Dan


Veteran Donaldson, who was influenced, as many or most were, by Charlie Parker and whose cooperations with Thelonious Monk, Art Blakey and Jimmy Smith date back to the late forties and early/mid-fifties, had a good hand in picking new breed cats in his mid-sixties soul jazz and late-sixties/early seventies jazz funk heyday. To name but a few: Grant Green, Big John Patton, Ben Dixon, Charles Earland, Melvin Sparks. The group of Midnight Creeper is of similar high standard.

One only has to take a listen to Bag Of Jewels to appreciate the rapport of George Benson & Co. The artistic merit of a simple vamp like this one, written by organist Lonnie Smith, lies in the protagonists’ groove-ability. The drive of the rhythm section of drummer Idris Muhammad (formerly Leo Morris) and Lonnie Smith is tremendous. The twangy chords of George Benson add body to the bottom. Lonnie Smith is a wholesale dealer in juicy funk and enigmatic surprises. Smith, on this album, shows that he had become one of the most original organists of his time.

Following Smith, the rest of the soloists – Blue Mitchell, George Benson and Lou Donaldson – bring a lot of jazz finesse to the otherwise basic vamp. Worth mentioning are Blue Mitchell’s skilled work and buoyant style, Benson’s clever yet spicy build-up from low to high register, Muhammad’s stimulating way of announcing soloists with crackling press rolls and, finally, Donaldson’s deceptively casual, logically evolving tale.

The signature tune, Midnight Creeper, is an easy-going groove, a mellow boogaloo. The title and bounce suggest the nocturnal journey of a greasy cat, but for me that lazy gait ignites visions of old geezers in the park, scuffling around a chess board and glancing from under their Panama hats to attractive women passing by. That, of course, is one of the beauties of music, that it creates a variety of feelings.

Donaldson shines brightly on ballads, and Elisabeth is no exception. Not only does Donaldson have chops in abundance, his tone is warm and penetrating and the way Donaldson wraps his arms around the melody is breathtaking.

The funky beat of Love Power is irresistable. It has a kind of Bo Diddley twist as well. Lou Donaldson’s comments bring about a playful, calypso feeling. George Benson delivers a skilled r&b section, including bent strings and slurs. In short, the cover of Teddy Vann’s tune – recorded by The Sandpebbles in 1967 – is a spicy stew.

The album Midnight Creeper is an appetizing melting pot as well. Lou Donaldson’s commercial jazz funk albums, even if not all of them are up to par with Midnight Creeper, include classic groove tunes that, I’ve always felt, have the vital function of keeping jazz accessible for newcomers into the jazz realm. At least it worked like that for me as well as a number of teenage buddies in the mid-nineties. Donaldson reminded us of the blues and soul music we were passionately involved with. Midnight Creeper and Lou Donaldson’s other boogaloo gems spelled: wow, this is jazz as well! We’re enjoying the ‘far out’ Coltrane and Monk, but let’s get low, down & dirty for a change! Yeah, let’s just.

Red Holloway - Red Soul

Red Holloway Red Soul (Prestige 1965)

Imagine side A of Rubber Soul being performed by the genuine Fab Four and side B as a new project of McCartney & Harrison supported by Carol Kaye and Hal Blaine. That would be a whole different ball game, right? Interesting, to say the least! Incoherent but fruitful, no doubt. Red Holloway’s Red Soul is a jazz equivalent of the ‘alternative’ Rubber Soul.

Red Holloway - Red Soul

Personnel

Red Holloway (tenor saxophone), Lonnie Smith (organ A1-5), George Benson (guitar), Chuck Rainey (electric bass A1-5), Paul Breslin (bass B1-4), Ray Lucas (drums A1-5), Frank Severino (drums B1-4)

Recorded

December 1965 in NYC

Released

as PR7473 in 1966

Track listing

Side A:
Making Tracks
Movin’ On
Good & Groovy
Get It Together
Big Fat Lady
Side B:
A Tear In My Heart
Eagle Jaws
I’m All Packed
The Regulars


It uses two differing line-ups and as a consequence lacks a unified atmosphere. It has to be said, however, that both groups deliver two solid ‘mini-albums’. The organ combo of side A concentrates on the blues, expertly so, and avoids dead end streets by adding some delicate touches to the compositions. Making Tracks, for example, makes use of a chromatic descent in the eleventh and twelfth bar, creating a welcome tension. There’s rhythmic variation as well, as the funky blues beat of Movin’ On and the break-filled theme of Good & Groovy demonstrate.

Red Holloway shows his capability to carry such tunes. He’d been sharpening his razors in Brother Jack McDuff’s group for two years and a half years prior to recording Red Soul; McDuff (and drummer Joe Dukes) really pushed sidemen such as Holloway to the groovy limit. On this occasion, the combo is not so fiery; it’s excellent, but their sound is thin. Its atmosphere is identical to Lonnie Smith’s debut album Finger Lickin’ Good, that had George Benson (who of course had also been with McDuff) aboard as well, who on Red Soul seemingly off the cuff hands out more than a handful of bluesy goodies.

Side B is jazz of a different band and nature; only Benson remained. Its sound and style is interchangeable to that of the late fifties. That doesn’t mean it’s a disappointment. It consists of uptempo, swinging tunes driven by Holloway’s hard-edged but fluent tenor, yet it’s the lone ballad, A Tear In My Heart, that is the session’s centrepiece. Bordering on a ‘cri de coeur’ played by a man accustomed to romantic bankruptcy, Holloway’s suave yet solid tenor work is heartfelt. Holloway was around as a freshman in the late fourties and it’s heartening to hear that musicians like him transported the beauty of swing to the next decades.

Both groups on Red Soul have a nice enough rapport. In the album’s liner notes Red Holloway put across his intention of showing two sides of the Holloway coin. It created a bit of a mixed bag, but one filled with satisfying efforts.

YouTube: Good And Groovy

Lonnie Smith - Move Your Hand

Lonnie Smith Move Your Hand (Blue Note 1969)

A Blue Note bestseller, Move Your Hand obviously struck a chord among Hammond lovers as well as broader jazz fans. For a live engagement that centers on slow and mid-tempo grooves, this was quite an achievement. Perhaps Lonnie Smith’s greatest talent is to bring us into a trance and have us begging for more.

Lonnie Smith - Move Your Hand

Personnel

Lonnie Smith (organ), Rudy Jones (tenor saxophone), Ronnie Cuber (baritone saxophone), Larry McGee (guitar), Sylvester Goshay (drums)

Recorded

on August 9, 1969 at Club Harlem in Atlantic City, New Jersey

Released

BST 84326 in 1969

Track listing

Side A:
Charlie Brown
Layin’ In The Cut
Side B:
Move Your Hand
Sunshine Superman


Move Your Hand’s repertoire stands out as well. Smith original Move Your Hand doesn’t leave much to the imagination. On a soul jazz level its blunt erotic message fits in with the mores of James Brown’s Sex Machine or The Beatles’ Why Don’t We Do It In The Road? Lonnie Smith’s raspy voice leaves us with a big grin. (If Move Your Hand reveals a healthy case of machismo, on like-minded jam Peace Of Mind – from Live At Club Mozambique – May 21, 1970 – sarcasm has the upper hand on sardonism. Smith’s preliminary talk certainly gave that rough and funky date an unusual flavor: “I don’t take no stuff from no woman.”)

Presumably, flower child Donovan’s Sunshine Superman’s bravado, albeit LSD-driven, perfectly added to Smith’s feelings at that time. (coincidentally, Smith recorded at Club Harlem just a week prior to Donovan’s appearance at Woodstock) Lonnie Smith has that wizardly edge on a Hammond B3 that sounds like a dream. He phrases relaxed and astute, taking his time to build a meaningful story full of interesting asides and unexpected, probing little climaxes in the upper register. ‘The pocket’ seems to come natural to Smith. The organist stays in it effortlessly, which is absolutely essential for the album’s attraction.

Move Your Hand’s appeal is also in large part due to Ronny Cuber’s full-bodied, magnetic baritone saxophone. Finally, Lonnie Smith and his group transform Leiber & Stoller’s and The Coasters’ Charlie Brown into a discourse on the art of breakbuilding. Drummer Sylvester Goshay fills spaces with exciting rolls. It is a very satisfying listening experience, simultanously relaxed and intense, and everyone’s solo’s are very ‘together.’ This could be said for the record in general.

Of the sidemen on this date, only Ronnie Cuber maintained in the spotlight on a regular basis. He has been well respected as one of the great modern players of the baritone saxophone and sideman to such diverse musicians as George Benson, Eddie Palmieri and Frank Zappa. Pittsburgh native Larry McGee has been under the radar ever since. Guitarist McGee played on Lonnie Smith’s Drives. Of fellow Steel City native Goshay and tenor player Rudy Jones virtually nothing beyond the scope of Move Your Hand is known.

However, on the basis of said recording one might say these men’s groovy credentials are undisputed.