The Essential George Benson
covers 28 years and spans two discs, so it lives up to its claim of having the widest scope of all the Benson
compilations that surfaced before it. While it's impressive that Columbia/Legacy didn't merely mine Columbia and CTI dates, and licensed material from Warner Bros. and Prestige as well (the brief Verve period is unrepresented), you could also say that the label also spread itself thin, with several crucial moments in Benson's career unable to fit. If Columbia/Legacy were honest, they'd position this as more of a sampler with a few curve balls. No matter what era you prefer, you're going to come up short, and it's not as if most people who are curious about Benson are going to be open-minded enough to appreciate both "Clockwise" and the vastly different "Give Me the Night." Some of the surprise selections, which almost outnumber the obvious ones, include an alternate take of "Ode to a Kudu," "Hip Skip" (from Tony Williams
' late-'70s Joy of Flying
), "Rock Candy" (from Brother Jack McDuff Live!
), and "Paraphernalia" (a bizarre pick for any
form of anthology, from Miles Davis
' Miles in the Sky
). Even casual fans won't have to think too hard about essential cuts that aren't here -- "Durham's Turn," "Nature Boy," "The World Is a Ghetto," "Love X Love," and on and on, but the majority of what's here cannot be challenged. This is a way to begin -- not wrap up -- your fascination with Benson. It is
representative of the breadth of his career from 1963 through 1980, but it could have just as easily been done a dozen other ways. The sound is vibrant, and Benson's track-by-track commentary adds a nice touch.