Two nights ago, on July 1st, the great jazz guitarist George Benson brought his soul and hits to Place des Arts during the 40th anniversary of the Montreal Jazz Festival. Last time he played in the city, from what I was able to see online, was almost 10 years ago during the Festival in 2010, when he revisited Nat King Cole’s and his own music along with a 30 piece orchestra.
It’s well known in this blog that I have had my share of surprises and deceptions with several of the “classic” stars of the past 50 years and given that history with such shows, my expectations for the night were not set too high just in case another disappointment was to happen.
The venue seemed to be completely sold out, with a varied crowd but mostly made up of boomer couples waiting to hear the hits of their youth and (unfortunately) have to dance while sitting down.
The setlist surprised me the most, because even though the pressure and expectations were there for Benson to just play hit after hit, which in itself must be a hard and exhausting experience for any musician that has been playing the same songs for over five decades, George Benson played song from his latest album, celebrating the rock n roll originals Fats Domino and Chuck Berry.
The experience as a whole swung between a beautiful rendition of jazz-pop and a Las Vegas show, and at times it felt grandiose and prefabricated at the same time. That in itself had the desired effect of entertainment and joy on the public but for me, it made it somewhat difficult to fully appreciate the guitar idol.
Now as for the voice and guitar? Well, he didn’t play as much as I thought he would, and most of the famous licks that I heard on the albums were played by his backup guitar player. When he played he did it flawlessly and with the same passion, you hear over the radio. But when he sang he did it in his aged voice and performed on a more baritone range than what I was used to, and when he did try to reach the higher pitched notes he did so in more of a falsetto voice and pulling away the microphone from his mouth, something that could be expected but added to the dissonance of memory vs show.
All in all, I am happy I attended the concert and got to witness such inspiring and romantic guitar playing, and I am very glad he keeps making fresh music that still has the power to move our souls. May he add more Grammys to his impressive collection of ten and more young fans to his millions of followers.
Review – Ricardo D. Flores