The silky voice and sexy manner of jazz guitarist George Benson combine in an act that's nothing if not smooth. On his new album, "Give Me the Night," the pop-jazz numbers are spiced with a little funk, a dash of disco and the usual ardent lyrics. He seems to have his teasing electric guitar licks and passionate style down to a science.
But at times Benson is so cool he's boring. Except for the throbbing title track by Rod Temperton, most cuts lack both the energy and emotion of the live numbers on "Weekend in L.A.," his last LP. Unfortunately, "Off Broadway," a disco-beat instrumental with heavy drum and prominent synthesizer touches, isn't at all dynamic compared to Benson's earlier live rendition of "On Broadway." His studio-perfect product, unlike the smoldering stage performance, is too pat.
His attempt at a scat novelty tune, "Moody's Mood," doesn't quite click, either, Benson strolls through old Ella Fitgerald-style love song enunciating loose, uneven lines that are a variation on his trademark scat syllables. But against a flowing solo by Patti Austin and an array of violins, he comes out sounding sadly second string.
On the breezy instrumental "Dinorah, Dinorah," his scat vocal comes through to complement his expansive guitar solo. But a circus-like synthesizer, plus sax, flute and orchestrated string section tend to swamp Benson's playing. Ultimately the cut seems like elaborate filler.
At his best, the lead guitar Romeo manages to amaze us with agility on the frets while keeping the flowery lyrics believable. "Love Dance" is a highlight of the album, a tender ballad with soft strokes and simple, amorous urgings: "Turn up the quiet/love wants to dance." Benson's soothing odes sometimes turn into sugary crooners. On "Turn Out the Lamplight" a gooey chorus has George slowing down to speak lines like "sit by my side, sit by my side and love me, love me tonight." It sounds like a '50s spoof at first, but he's doing some sincere courting.
Produced by Quincy Jones and with backup stints by Herbie Hancock on synthesizer and George Duke on keyboards, "Give Me the Night" is a harmless collection of wispy songs that are best by candlelight.