MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters Life!) - George Benson gave a slick performance combining unparalleled guitar chops and sophisticated jazz-soul vocals at the Montreux Jazz Festival after being hailed the world’s best axeman by BB King.
Versatile Benson, who has played Montreux countless times in the past 25 years, had the crowd jumping in the Stravinsky Auditorium by Lake Geneva on Monday with a diverse set.
Benson is “the best guitarist in the world in all kinds of music,” said blues legend BB King at a early hours jam session the previous night. “Rock, jazz, blues - he plays better than anybody else!”
After an early career building on the guitar techniques of jazz heroes like Wes Montgomery and Grant Green, Benson tapped a wider audience from the mid-70s with a broad repertoire designed to show off his talents as a singer as well as guitarist.
Benson, looking younger than his 66 years in white pants and open-neck black shirt, gave a guitar master class with a jazz-funk number and the upbeat “Weekend in L.A.”
Standing legs apart with his guitar strapped high, Benson’s fingers flitted effortlessly over the fretboard of his guitar, making the most difficult of improvisations look simple.
The ten-time Grammy Award winner then treated the audience to his finely judged vocals on “Nature Boy” and other crowd-pleasers ranging from soulful ballads to rock, before having to pause for breath after the energetic “20/20 Vision.”
Jamaican keyboardist Monty Alexander, who stole the show in the main hall on Friday, then joined Benson for an improvisational feast on “At The Mambo Inn” as Benson doubled up on his scat vocal lines with guitar.
The whole audience was on its feet dancing by the time Benson ended his set with the disco funk of “Give Me The Night” and the crowd called him back for two encores.
The first, an improvised blues, saw Benson’s vocal skills tested to the limit by jazz singer Rachelle Ferrell in a virtuoso scat duel, before Benson and friends rounded off an exciting performance with “On Broadway.”
“George Benson is part of Montreux,” said festival organizer Claude Nobs. “Each time he comes with different music, different musicians, but each time he comes with the same huge talent and huge soul.”
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