George Benson has always been a smooth operator, ever since he made the transition from regular jazz guitarist, sometime sideman to Miles Davis and protégé of Cecil Taylor, to crossover mainstream superstar crooner and colleague of Whitney Houston. Such is Benson’s appeal on the Edinburgh leg of his current world tour that the ladies packed into the royal box are on their feet and all a-sway before anyone’s even set a foot onstage. And when Benson does breeze on, the rest of the room joins them.
Much of this appeal, one suspects, comes from his version of The Greatest Love Of All, which he encores with tonight following a host of other crowd-pleasers which book-end a ninety minute set that builds towards wedding disco favourite, Give Me The Night. The airbrushed jazz-funk sheen of this and Turn Your Love Around, which preceded it, sound as sophisticated as a soundtrack to a suburban wine bar. Its inoffensive bump-and-grind, however, is infectious, as Benson himself demonstrates on a not quite decent slow shimmy with himself.
Beyond such displays, the most interesting part of the evening comes on another Benson stalwart, an extended instrumental version of Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, which turns the song’s psychedelic tango into a boogie workout. A shame, then, that many seized this as an opportune moment for a toilet break which they really should have held out for until a bizarre but affectionate solo rendering of Danny Boy. With a bassist who plays tambourine with his foot and a version of On Broadway injecting the song with both Bo Diddley chug and wicka-wacka groove, Benson’s commercial sleight-of-hand appears as effortless as ever.
The Herald, July 1st 2008