September 16, 2012

U-Nam : Weekend In LA (A Tribute To George Benson)

Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a personal perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul.

From the time in 2007 when guitar player Emmanuel ‘U-Nam’ Abiteboul moved from his native France to the musical intensity of LA he has been steadily building his reputation as one of the most innovative performers in the smooth jazz, R & B and soul genres. Originally a renowned producer, U-Nam has worked with heavyweights such as Barry White and Kool & the Gang while as a solo artist his 2007 recording Back From The 80s garnered the chart topping hit ‘Street Life’. Unanimity followed two years later and now he is back with the hugely adventurous Weekend In LA (A Tribute To George Benson). This look back at the music of one of the true pioneers of contemporary jazz is enhanced by an outstanding of list of guest performers and is far from merely being just a compilation of covers.

Indeed anyone expecting a velvety re-imagining of some of Bensons most popular songs is in for quite a surprise. A case in point is ‘Shiver’ where ‘velvety’ is replaced by ‘edgy’ and Paul Jackson Jr. rocks it out on guitar. Another highpoint of this terrific tune are the vocals of Tim Owens that, throughout, sizzle at soul-factor ten. In all Owens features on five of the album’s eleven tracks and he is back for the seminal ‘Give Me The Night’ that is very much where Benson meets techno. If that sounds unlikely then just go with the flow, you won't be disappointed.

Talking of seminal, Benson hits don’t come much bigger than ‘Love X Love’ and U-Nam’s mega soulful version of this wonderful tune checks almost every box imaginable. Later, when he is joined for the title cut by Ronnie Foster on keys and fellow guitarist Andreas Oberg, what starts out as an extremely easy grooving slice of contemporary jazz quickly evolves into an eight-minute journey which includes a sequence of amazing of twists and turns. However, in terms of duration that is nothing compared to the eleven plus minutes of ‘This Masquerade’ that not only features both George Duke and Marcus Miller but also provides more cool vocals from Tim Owens. That notwithstanding perhaps Owens’ finest moment comes when he takes the lead on the sumptuously soulful ‘I Just Wanna Hang Around You’ which, in terms of personal favorites, is right up there and in the choice company of a superbly fluent rendition of ‘Turn Your Love Around’.

A clever mash up of ‘Before You Go’ and ‘Breezin’ is eight minutes of music that you may never want to end and is enhanced in no small measure by a guest performance by the magical Patrice Rushen. Elsewhere, as vocal duties pass to Mint Condition front man Stokley Williams, his fulsome tones do much to move ‘Nature Boy’ to another dimension. It’s another number that is categorized by a pulsing beat and although the jazzy ‘Hip Skip’ serves as a fine showcase for U-Nam’s intricate playing its when Owens returns on vocals for ‘On Broadway’ that the magic of Benson really comes flooding back.

There is even a fabulous bonus track in the form of the zesty ‘Never Give Up On A Good Thing’ that, with vocals from Thorsten Good, might well be one of the best covers of 2012.

Check out Weekend In LA (A Tribute To George Benson), hang on and enjoy the ride.

Do you have any comments on what you have found in this edition of the Secret Garden? If so please e-mail me on DenisPoole2000@Yahoo.com.

Posted by Denis Poole at September 16, 2012 5:28 PM