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2019 Highlight: George Benson

George Benson has not made a truly great album since Absolute Benson 19 years ago. Just refresh your memory for a minute by listening to 'Come Back Baby' complete with a Gadd groove and great organ from Ricky Peterson on that album. No kidding, …

Published: 19 Dec 2019. Updated: 18 months.

George Benson has not made a truly great album since Absolute Benson 19 years ago.

Just refresh your memory for a minute by listening to 'Come Back Baby' complete with a Gadd groove and great organ from Ricky Peterson on that album.

No kidding, huh? So it was magnificently encouraging to hear GB back with a new album Walking to New Orleans six years since his last album, the Nat King Cole-inspired album Inspiration, that to be frank at the time left me very cold. It still does! My working theory on Nat King Cole tribute albums, and this also applies to the blessed Gregory's more recent effort, is just play Nat King Cole's old records and don't bother about tributes. Or far better and more instructive instead go hear Freddy Cole. Freddy is at Birdland over Christmas. Bask in his sound to come anywhere close and Freddy comes closest of all even when he is not setting out to do anything of the sort.

We usually forget Benson's guitar-playing because of his incredible voice. That is as much down to a fan propensity to switch off given big stars' often frequent recourse to abject showbizzery. Check out Benson with Brother Jack McDuff back in 1963 to offset complacency given what we now think we know. A case in point of needing to woodshed all these old records to keep our listening chops up, eh.

Anyway without further very unnecessary chit-chat Benson on Walking to New Orleans joins the dots interestingly between early rock and roll and little hints of jazz and that made this release so unusual. A step in the right direction. Hopefully, Benson will put out a proper ''jazz heads'' record in the future. SG

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Gareth Hunt/Wally Shaw/Steve Plumb + Sid Gauld, The Griffin, London

First published in 2014. The landlord behind the bar wearing a pork pie hat, a little rescue piano tucked away in front of him. Frank Sinatra on the pub’s sound system in raconteur mode telling anecdotes about Dino. A bunch of writers spotted …

Published: 19 Dec 2019. Updated: 18 months.

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First published in 2014. The landlord behind the bar wearing a pork pie hat, a little rescue piano tucked away in front of him. Frank Sinatra on the pub’s sound system in raconteur mode telling anecdotes about Dino. A bunch of writers spotted drafting preparations for a play in a little spot by the bar. It’s not a bad way to first encounter north London pub the Griffin in Whetstone, under the new jazz-friendly regime. Pub jazz has been on the up since the licensing laws changed, and no better a spot than the Griffin at the Whetstone end of Totteridge Lane where the man behind the bar with the pork pie hat is landlord and trumpeter Matt Hope, an alumnus of Leeds College of Music. Besides calmly pulling frothing pints of Bombardier and the like alongside his small staff of attentive barmaids Hope has used his musician connections to establish a Sunday night session at the pub in recent weeks.

It was just after seven when the Finchley and Whetstone locals started to drift in for the latest running last night, where joining the house rhythm section of London taxi driver Steve Plumb on drums, Wally Shaw on bass, and Gareth Hunt, piano, was guesting trumpeter/flugel player Sid Gauld, an in-demand session player and arranger also known for his work with Incognito, Delightful Precipice and Mark Lockheart.

The scene for the now established Sunday session had been set some weeks earlier with appearances by Finn Peters, Georgia Mancio, and Dave O'Higgins at the little playing space near the fireplace. The house trio generates a steady swinging pulse with material performed last night that included Mingus’ ’Nostalgia In Times Square’, and best of all, where Gauld really shone in terms of composure and tone, Thad Jones’ ’A Child is Born’ a tune you can also hear on Avishai Cohen's new album Almah released today. Matt Hope, above. Photo: marlbank