BUY THIS MUSIC
GEORGE BENSON WHITE RABBIT, 1972, CTI

A trumpet call startles you awake to rocky seaside cliffs and hazy pre-dawn skies. The light is coming, but it’s hard to see the little man leading you away from the edge towards?... You follow him, hearing an indistinct lamentation. Suddenly you are in a ring and a crowd watches you from above. You are their entertainment, pitted against a strange beast that eyes you, snarling. He stamps his hoof. The dance begins, but you have no weapon to challenge him. The voices ululate, louder now, in unison with hectic guitar strings. The beast charges towards you… Suddenly the scene opens out into a festival that is bright and loud and crowded. You are no longer an adversary but a casual watcher, one of the crowd, enthralled by the celebrations…

And the chase for the White Rabbit begins, through five tracks marked by this duality. A driving groove that starts from the beginning and sustains from instrument to instrument, player to player, solo to solo, like a hot stone passed around a circle, always smoldering, catching controlled fire. While a periodic fanfare of horns— a product of Don Sebesky’s arrangement and a hallmark of the CTI sound—anchors the party in the courtyard of the temple, bathed in stony sunlight, tempo easy, salubrious; the whole affair democratic, for the people.

It is a musical incantation marked by dichotomies and urbane mystic flourishes: bells opening like glass doorways, pianos twinkling like sea birds; tin whistles and triangle chimes; gypsies strumming under scarlet capes and celebrants looming unseen, unnerving behind cowls. The process is a low-key summoning—ceremonial and playful, mysterious and accessible, funky and languid—and it exudes a soft kind of magic.

Your reward for the journey comes, as it should, at the end. The closing track, “El Mar,” weaves a spell all its own: it is the longed for Sunday afternoon in a seaside garden with friends that becomes—suddenly and without any clear memory of the details—an intimate nighttime walk alone with a nameless dancer. You stop intermittently by the seawall beneath candlelit streetlamps to catch the reflection of light on the inky waves. You kiss. You step into a streetside grotto for a drink in a wood-paneled incandescent bar. Then you wander back towards a bed, as revelers from the uncertain festival shout fading huzzahs on the breeze.

Streamers fly, and innocent flares crush softly against the pre-dawn sky, smearing like gold make-up on a ball of Egyptian cotton; then a distant, rallying sound, a fisherman calling to his lady’s window, an initiate of the mysteries numb with euphoria searching the alleys for the last streetwalker. Dizzily you tilt your head towards the origin of the far-off strings, sensing music in every doorway, a last rigor mortis of passion, then the sound fading away, a cigarette tossed from a black corridor, a grip tightening in your fingers… You start to walk a little faster on the cobblestones, knowing soon you too will be making love.