On this album, George Benson in some ways comes full circle. In 1978, he released the groundbreaking Weekend in LA, an album that captured Benson’s live performance in fall 1977 at the Roxy Theater in West Hollywood. Like Weekend in LA, Weekend in London records Benson’s intimate performance at a small jazz club — Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club — and captures the intensity of his fans’ love for him and Benson’s passion for delivering a satisfying set of crowd favorites.
Riding along the warm grooves of his guitar, Benson affectionately envelops the crowd in the warm and familiar blanket of his hits while also taking the audience down a few surprise paths with his versions of songs such as Dave Bartholomew’s and Pearl King’s “I Hear You Knocking,” a swaggering stride blues that features the stride piano of Thom Hall, or James Taylor’s “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” a sparkling lounge jazz rendition that captures the pleading desire at the center of the song.
The album opens with Benson’s signature song, “Give Me the Night,” grooving along a boisterous tempo perfect for the dance floor and featuring Benson’s by-now famous note-by-note vocal and guitar call and response on the instrumental bridge. It’s followed up by another Benson favorite, “Turn Your Love Around,” a scampering soul jazz number that leaves listeners breathless. Benson slows the set down with his rendition of Dan Hill’s “In Your Eyes,” illustrating that he’s just as capable of crooning a tender ballad as he is of scatting up and down the scales on some of his more animated jazz standards.
Benson and his band — keyboardists Randy Waldman and Thom Hall, bassist Stanley Banks, guitarist Michael O’Neill, and drummer Khari Parker — funk it up on Donny Hathaway’s “The Ghetto,” which echoes Benson’s own rendition of “On Broadway” as he scats note-for-note with his lead lines, but which slides into phrases from Santana’s “Oye Como Va” on the instrumental bridge. On the stirring instrumental “Affirmation,” written by José Feliciano, Benson takes flight, soaring high on the neck of his guitar, carrying us into the improvisational stratosphere.
Weekend in London, of course, is tailor-made for George Benson fans, but it also serves as a good introduction to his style and his music. His songs all follow a similar road, but Benson drives around enough curves to keep the ride interesting.