Narendra Kusnur's music musings …

Archive for April, 2014

CD review/ Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole/ George Benson


Inspiration: A Tribute to Nat King Cole

Artiste: George Benson

Genre: Evergreens/ jazz

Concord Records

Rating: ****

BACK in college in 1982, George Benson was one of my earliest introductions to jazz-pop, along with Grover Washington Jr and Chuck Mangione. Though I got into more traditional jazz soon enough, Benson’s fluid guitaring and distinct style of vocal scatting – singing nonsensical syllables – always attracted me. To this day, the songs ‘The Greatest Love Of All’, ‘On Broadway’, ‘Breezin’, ‘This Masquerade’ and ‘Give Me The Night’ remain favourites.

Thus, it was great to hear Benson had recorded a tribute album to the legendary Nat King Cole, one of the most influential voices of the 20th century. Though this album was released last June, I got to check it only recently. Here, Benson takes 12 numbers popularised by Nat, and while retaining the basic vocal melody, adds his own touch with his lush arrangements, guitar interludes and scatting parts.

Interestingly, Benson begins the album with an old recording of his singing a sample from the hit ‘Mona Lisa’ when he was an eight-year-old. A full-length version of the same song is sung by the adult Benson to conclude the album, and the lines “Are you warm, are you real, Mona Lisa, or just a cold and lonely, lovely work of art” sound as riveting as they did when sung by Nat in 1950.

The album’s second song is Cole Porter’s 1935 standard ‘One of Those Things’, which has been covered by numerous artistes, Typically old-school arrangements and a trademark Benson scat are the highlights of this. This is followed by Nat’s hugely famous ‘Unforgettable’, which has a marvellous trumpet stretch by guest artiste Wynton Marsalis, and typically simple lines like, “Unforgettable that’s what you are, unforgettable though near or far.”

Other well-known songs include ‘Route 66’, penned by Bobby Troup and featuring a sprightly piano by Randy Waldman, and Eden Ahbez’s ‘Nature Boy’, known for its lines, “The greatest thing you’ll ever learn, is just to love and be loved in return.”

There’s an absolute beauty in ‘Smile’, whose tune was written by Charlie Chaplin for his 1936 film Modern Times, but was given lyrics much later by John Turner and Geoffrey Parsons. The song, with the vocals, was popularised by Nat, and Benson’s version features an intoxicating trumpet by Till Bronner.

Of the other tracks, ‘Straight Up and Fly Right’, a peppy number co-written by Nat, is played with a funky feel. ‘Ballerina’, ‘Walking My Baby’ and ‘I’m Gonna Sit Down and Write Myself a Letter’ retain their old-world charm.

While Benson does solo vocals on most tracks, two duets add value. ‘When I Fall In Love’ features singer Idina Menzel, and has the lines “When I fall in love, it’ll be forever, or I’ll never fall in love.” For the trivia fans, it was originally a big hit for Doris Day, though Nat’s version was successful too. Finally, ‘Too Young’ with singer Judith Hill brims with nostalgia.

Throughout, Benson keeps the feel of the songs rich, without compromising on their simplicity. As a tribute, this is great listening, and good exposure to those who haven’t grown up on the genius of Nat King Cole.

RATING SCALE: * Poor; ** Average; *** Good; **** Excellent; ***** Simply outstanding


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Upcoming talent: Sushant Divgikar

FOR those wondering why I hadn’t posted a new blog in the past two months, the reason was: acute spondylitis. Of course, I had other writing commitments for Rolling Stone magazine, Mid-Day, Hindustan Times and Absolute India newspapers, which I fulfilled. But typing was a bit painful, and I avoided it wherever I could – namely, writing blogs.

During the on-and-off break from work, there were times when I just couldn’t make it for concerts. Over the past three months or so, I missed the Alan Parsons show, the February season of the Symphony Orchestra of India, flautist Rajeev Raja’s gig at Blue Frog, the Ronu Majumdar-Rekha Bhardwaj show at Nehru Centre and Nandu Bhende’s Beatles tribute at D’Bell, Lower Parel. The last miss will be a regret forever as Nandu, a dear friend, passed away on April 11.

There were some shows that I managed to attend, despite some level of physical discomfort. In late January, I caught Rakesh Chaurasia & Friends at the Fine Arts Society, Chembur. Featuring Rakesh on flute, Gino Banks on drums, Sheldon D’Silva on bass, Sangeet Haldipur on keyboards, Satyajeet Talwakar on tabla and Sanjoy Das on guitar, the group played some good, classical-based fusion.

Next was the Abbaji Barsi at the Shanmukhananda Hall on February 3, held every year to mark the death anniversary of tabla great Ustad Allarakha. As usual, Zaklr Hussain spearheaded the show. Violinist N Rajam’s rendition of Ahir Bhairav and Carnatic vocalist Abhishek Raghuram were the highlights of the morning session. The afternoon had its share of solo percussion recitals, and the evening had a jam session with Zakir, drummer Lil John Roberts, members of the Gipsy Kings and an array of Indian musicians.

On February 4, the country outfit Bellamy Brothers played at the Willingdon Catholic Club, Santa Cruz. The show has been earlier reviewed on this blog.

Mid-February, and the Mahindra Blues Festival comes to town. This year’s highlights at the Mehboob Studio, Bandra, were the outstanding guitarist Derek Trucks, who played with wife Susan Tedeschi and special guest Doyle Bramhall II. The second day witnessed the well-known Jimmie Ray Vaughan, brother of the legendary Stevie Ray Vaughan. Another performance worth mentioning was Shillong band Soulmate, clearly the best Indian blues band around.

In early April, one had the pleasure of seeing the amazing jazz guitarist John McLaughlin with his band 4th dimension, featuring keyboardist Gary Husband, bassist Etienne M’bappe and drummer Ranjit Barot. The show at Bandra’s St Andrew’s auditorium was memorable, as what they played was tight, energetic jazz-rock.

The following day at St Andrew’s, one attended a pop show with a difference. What’s special about Mumbai-based Sushant Divgikar is that he sings falsetto, in a female voice. Thus, he sang hits by Adele, Beyonce and Barbra Streisand with effortless ease, hitting the high notes perfectly.

On the Titanic song ‘My heart will go on’, he was joined by Auxilla. Popular singer Rekha Bhardwaj made a guest appearance on the 7 Khoon Maaf song ‘Darling’. The winner of many karaoke contests, Sushant is a bundle of talent. A voice to watch.

That, then, was a quick summary of shows attended in the past two months. One, of course, missed many classical concerts, and some fusion shows. Hopefully something brilliant will come up over the next few weeks.

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