No doubt, if George Benson isn’t the best guitarist in the world of jazz, he’s probably in the top five at least. The problem though, is finding an album where he really rips on the six string, as opposed to crooning love songs or some other commercial endeavor. Generally the early part of Benson’s career has his best recorded output, which is true with this early release, “The George Benson Cookbook”. Recorded when Benson was still fairly new to the scene, he does not hold back on this one and comes out with both guns blazing on the first cut. Album opener, “The Cooker”, is high speed hard bop with plenty of impossible lightning fast runs from Benson, as well as some very heated baritone work from Ronnie Culper. In fact, Ronnie shines all through this album, and his choice of bari sax gives him a unique voice. Side one continues with more swingin bluesy bop, some groovy bossa and Benson’s one vocal number, a very spirited take on “All of Me”. This song can be wore out, but George lifts it up with his energetic vocals. This upbeat version is a good example of how this entire album has the warm energy and spontaneous feel of a live club date.
Side two continues with more hard bop and bluesy RnB with “Return of the Prodigal Son” being a stand out with its cool soul jazz riffs suitable for a 60s spy movie or liquor commercial. There are no bad songs on this entire album and all the soloists really cook. Along with Culper and Benson, you get Lonnie Smith on the B3, Bennie Green on the T-bone, and a few other guests on horns. This album is highly recommended for fans of George Benson, great guitar playing in general and 60s hard bop that borders on soul jazz. Over the years, this sort of blues/jazz style became a bit generic, but not “Cookbook“, it has more energy than most.