This is basically the George Benson quartet, with Smith and Cuber, but trombonist Bennie Green and percussionist Pucho were added on some tracks, giving them a bop flavor that delighted dedicated jazz fans and critics. Green worked with Gene Ammons and Charlie Ventura in the forties, and sporadically with Earl Hines between 1942 and 1953.
Benson's quartet was modeled after Jack McDuff's--with baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber, organist Lonnie Smith, a powerhouse player who deserved more attention than he ever received, and Jimmy Lovelace or Marion Booker on drums. The sonorous tone of Cuber's baritone gives the quartet a richer, more dense texture than that obtained by McDuff, who used a tenor, but the overall sound is the same. At twenty-five, Ronnie Cuber was an alumnus of Marshall Brown's celebrated Newport Youth Band; he had spent the previous two years with Maynard Ferguson's very loud and brassy orchestra, which may account for his aggressive style, but Cuber's approach also emphasized rhythm, and that was precisely the ingredient called for by a "soul jazz" group of this kind.
Taken at a brisk clip, "The Cooker" lives up to its title. Benson goes first, delivering a long, beautifully structured solo with stop-time bridges. Next, Cuber keeps up the pace, throwing in quotes from "The Flight Of The Bumble Bee" and Bird before the ensemble brings the swinging to a well-timed, abrupt end.
Trombonist Bennie Green kicks off "Benny's Back," then Cuber, followed by Smith and, finally, Benson. You might recognize "Benson's Rider" as an old blues standard called "See See Rider." Taken at a medium tempo, it starts with Benson stating the theme, then improvising on it. Smith solos next, Benson takes it out.
The fad was all but over in 1966, but Benson clearly had an affinity for the bossa nova's gentle rhythm. With percussionist Pucho helping drummer Jimmy Lovelace maintain a mellow foundation, Benson is heard at his lyrical best throughout "Bossa Rock."
Cuber gets in a baritone solo, but Benson's vocals take up most of "All Of Me," a standard tune that no jazz singer worth his or her salt has bypassed. Notice how different Benson's style was then from the one that he employed to send later recordings to the tops of charts. You won't mistake this George Benson for Stevie Wonder.
If you have the original LP of this release, you may recognize "Big Fat Lady" as "Farm Boy." I wish I could explain the name change, but I can't. The same goes for "Ready And Able," [mp3]
which used to be called "Bayou." The latter is a boppish tune with Cuber soloing first, hotly skipping over Smith's seething foundation before Benson takes off on a fanciful flight. The set continues with two quartet selections, "The Borgia Stick" and "Return Of The Prodigal Son," which is strictly Benson, then ends on a familiar note as Bennie Green returns for a jam session-like no nonsense version of "Jumpin' With Symphony Sid." It's a good way to end a fine album whose severest critic is The leader himself.
--CHRIS ALBERTSON, from the liner notes.