Beyond boundaries

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All you really need to know about this two-CD collection is that it contains some of the best recorded material performed by one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time: George Benson.

Jazz critics and enthusiasts, not to mention the musicians themselves, are notoriously difficult folks to please, which explains the ongoing, heated disagreements concerning who is really playing the music and who
isn’t. But amid all the ongoing furor, one thing virtually everyone in the jazz community can agree on is that George Benson is virtually without parallel on guitar.

If there were a Hall of Fame for jazz guitarists, it would surely feature Charlie Christian, Charlie Byrd, Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Tuck Andrus and John McLaughlin, to name just a few. George Benson can’t honestly be said to be more gifted than any of these. Once an artist rises to such a level of recognition and accomplishment, the differences between him and his peers are more differences of style and approach than anything else. Still, what separates Benson from the pack are two things: his voice and his ability to stretch beyond traditional jazz boundaries.

Granted, the purists have been ticked at George for a while, claiming he sold out his legacy once he began playing more pop-oriented music during the latter half of his career. Breezin’ was allowable, but after that, the jaws got tight. But just as with Miles Davis, who also was criticized severely by the purists for the musical directions he chose later on, the criticisms never were about whether or not the man could play. After all, genius is genius and cannot be denied.

Keith A. Owens is a Detroit-based freelance writer and musician. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com.

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