Monday, September 10, 2012

U-Nam Weekend In L.A. A Tribute To George Benson SkyTown 2012

Most "tribute" recordings in virtually every sense of the word are a waste of time. With a great many tribute records you are treated to uninspired covers from talent that is simply there to earn a quick paycheck then it is off to the next gig or usually session work in an effort to pay the rent.

Not here...For the uninitiated the guitarist from Paris known as U-Nam is essentially George Benson first blood part two, there may be only one other guitarist that could come close to pulling off a superb tribute release such as this but the guitarist is far too ingrained in the radio format driven sub genre of smooth jazz to do so with the edge and vitality that U-Nam brings to the table. While Benson may be unfairly typecast as a smooth jazz guitarist, George Benson's prolific talents stretch from the more fusion oriented CTI days to the smoother side of the jazz street and literally every sub genre in between. It is Benson's versatility and virtuosity that elevate the artist slightly ahead of most contemporary guitarists. Everyone wants to sound like Benson, U-Nam takes the Benson sound forward and pushes it to another creative level.

The talent here is first rate and includes Marcus Miller, Patrice Rushen and George Duke to drop just a few names. U-Nam's riff on Benson is more soulful and when he reharmonizes a Benson classic he does so without disrespecting the original or himself which is the sign of a true artist. "Weekend In L.A." opens this sonic soul fest with a kicked up sound full of syncopated flavor while U-Nam proves he is as technically proficient as he is artistically gifted. Bordering on a dance number there is a lyrical sense of urgency and harmonic development that is simply fresh and pops with vitality. "Give Me The Night" is given a slightly more contemporary edge while breathing new life into a timeless classic with a hypnotic groove and U-Nam on point every step of the way. "This Masquerade" goes from a dreamy ballad to an extended soulful and somewhat blues infused gem with the help of George Duke and Marcus Miller. The deceptively subtle hip hop beat pushes the reharm without mangling the melody or feel of the original. Closing out this most solid of recordings is the classic "On Broadway." U-Nam and friends turn "On Broadway" into a flash fried funk infused flavor of soulful goodness. Say that three times fast! "On Broadway" takes on a unique sonic pulse as do most of the tunes here. Tim "Tio" Owens handles a great deal of the vocals and U-Nam could have searched far and wide and probably not found a better vocalist for these sessions.

George Benson places his stamp of approval by contributing some liner notes to this release but the music speaks for itself. U-Nam accomplishes what few artists could, he opens the sonic door for a new generation to discover a jazz master but to do so with his own unique contemporary flair. A guitarist with U-Nam's talents as a six string slinger of note could have easily pushed him to the more self indulgent route but instead this is a contemporary jazz collective that not only pays fitting homage to a legend but knocks it out of the park while doing so.

Whether you are a fan of George Benson, smooth jazz or the new sound of smooth jazz which seems to be a musical happy place between R&B and fusion then you will absolutely dig this release. A former editor often cautioned me to be careful of telling a reader what to expect but if this release doesn't move you then hang in there as your autopsy report should be finished soon!

Tracks: Weekend In L.A.; Give Me The Night; Shiver; Love x Love; Nature Boy; This Masquerade; Hip Ship; I Just Wanna Hang Around You; Turn Your Love Around; Before You Go/Breezin; On Broadway.

Personnel: U-Nam: lead & rhythm guitars, wha wha guitar, synth bass, talk box, programming, editing, keyboards, chimes; Andreas Oberg: lead and harmony guitars; Ronnie Foster: fender rhodes & clavinet; Dwayne "Smitty" Smith: bass; Michael White: drums; Dio Saucedo: percussions, congas; Denis Benarrosh: additional shaker, percussions; Franck Sitbon: clavinet; piano & background vocals; Raymond Gimenes: strings, arrangements; Tim "Tio" Owens: lead and background vocals; Paul Jackson Jr.: lead & rhythm guitars; Kamil Rustam: rhythm guitar; Shannon Kennedy: flute,tenor & alto sax; Keith Everette Smith: trumpet; Matt Rohde: fender rhodes, hammond b3; Eric Valentine: drums; Stokley Williams: lead vocal; Bill Steinway: fender rhodes, clavinet d6; Tony Moore: drums; NYR: background vocals; George Duke; fender rhodes & synth solo; Phil Perry: lead & background vocals; Jeff Lacey: rap; Marcus Miller: bass; Lin Roundtree: trumpet & flugelhorn & horn arrangements; Clarence "TLee" Hill: fender rhodes; Kim Hansen: additional keyboards, strings & horn arrangements, rhodes & synths; Christian Martinez: trumpet, flugelhorn; Thierry Farrugia: tenor sax & flute; Bernard Gamon: trombone; Patrice Rushen: fender rhodes solo.