CHARLES J. GANS
George Benson, "Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole" (Concord)
Just how much Nat King Cole inspired George Benson is evident on the opening track of "Inspiration: A Tribute To Nat King Cole" -- a 1951 recording of an 8-year-old Benson singing "Mona Lisa," accompanying himself on ukulele.
Like Cole, Benson first established himself as a highly regarded jazz instrumentalist before enjoying crossover pop stardom once he began singing.
Benson shows off his jazz vocal chops with some scat singing on a fast-paced, brassy big band version of "Just One Of Those Things" and a Latin-flavored arrangement of "Unforgettable," with Wynton Marsalis contributing a smooth trumpet solo.
He harmonizes beautifully with Broadway leading lady Idina Menzel on "When I Fall In Love" and rising star Judith Hill, recently eliminated from "The Voice," on "Too Young." Other highlights include a bluesy "Route 66" and a retro-style "Straighten Up and Fly Right," with a hard-driving guitar solo -- both done in a small combo setting.
But Benson misses an opportunity to put his distinctive stamp on the Cole repertoire by letting his guitar take a backseat to his voice. The result is that some tracks such as "Nature Boy" and Mona Lisa," which also use Nelson Riddle's arrangements for Cole's recordings, can sound derivative rather than fresh.
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