George Benson

Pacific Fire

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As long as George Benson was a hot commodity on Warner Bros. and Creed Taylor still had control over his tottering CTI label, the flow of recycled and unreleased Benson product from his old label kept on coming. But oh, how a few years make a difference in the packaging, for the luxurious glossy gatefold covers of CTI's glory days were replaced by a bare-bones, sparsely illustrated paperboard sleeve that smacks of cost-cutting. Though there is no recording date on the sleeve, one can deduce that these may be outtakes from the Good King Bad sessions: the personnel is exactly the same, minus the string section; James Brown alumnus David Matthews is back as arranger; and there is one alternate take, "Em," from the earlier album. Yet this is a more stylistically diverse album than Good King Bad -- not nearly as tied to R&B/funk elements, nor as organically flowing from track to track. A propulsive "Knock on Wood" kicks things off with a jazz-funk beat, with Benson in equally propulsive form and Fred Wesley knocking out a tough trombone solo. Benson aficionados might be surprised to find an early attempt at "Moody's Mood" here, but a sometimes off-key Benson hasn't found the curve of the twisted vocalese line yet (he would with Quincy Jones five years down the road) and he includes a scat-along-with-guitar chorus. Another unusual track is "Melodia Español," an Andalusian flamenco-flavored pairing with Hubert Laws' flute. "Bandoleros Caballa" is just Benson wailing with his electric rhythm section, the title track a slow, loose-jointed exercise in funk. While the packaging is subpar, at least Rudy Van Gelder's engineering is up to CTI's old standard -- excellent. As is Benson's masterful guitar.

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