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Various Artists: Freeway Jam: To Beck and Back - A Tribute (2007)

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Of the guitarists who emerged from the seminal British pop group The Yardbirds, Jeff Beck was always the intrepid risk-taker. Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page would go on to greater fame and fortune, while Beck's career has been consistent only in its inconsistency. Freeway Jam: To Beck and Back - A Tribute is the inevitable tribute spearheaded by guitarist Jeff Richman—who claims Beck as his "all time favorite guitarist —the brains behind other Tone Center tributes including Visions of an Inner Mounting Apocalypse (2005), The Royal Dan (2006) and Viva Carlos! (2006).

As usual, Richman assembled the core group and wrote all the arrangements. While his choice of guest guitarists has always been astute, here they're truly inspired, and include a few surprises. Taking classic Beck material ranging from his earliest days with The Yardbirds ("Over Under Sideways Down, "Beck's Bolero ) through his mid-1970s fusion heyday ("Freeway Jam, "Led Boots, "Diamond Dust, "Blue Wind ) to more recent material ("Behind the Veil, "Brush With the Blues ), Richman retains the signatures that made these tunes, regardless of the composer, Beck's tunes, but alters them enough to make them reverent tribute rather than mere imitation.

Many of the usual suspects are back. Mike Stern is instantly recognizable on Richman's 5/4 shuffle rework of "Diamond Dust, while Eric Johnson rocks out hard on a "Beck's Bolero that's more than a little reminiscent of guitar triumvirate The Hellecasters. Steve Morse easily handles Richman's harmonically astute yet no less energetic take on the title track. Beck could never be accused of going soft, so no matter how sophisticated the playing, every track on Freeway Jam has its own kind of burn.

As strong as the performances are from Richman's usual cadre—including the leader himself, who takes a turn on the four-on-the-floor "El Becko that's the equal of any on the disc—it's the first-timers who stand out, if only because, for the most part, they are all playing out of character. Chris Duarte and Walter Trout both have reputations as strong blues-rockers, the former demonstrating added breadth on the reggae-tinged "Behind the Veil and the latter greater grit on "Brush With the Blues.

John Scofield, on an unexpectedly funky "Over Under Sideways Down, plays with his characteristically loose, behind-the-bit phrasing, but his ability to navigate Richman's tougher changes over the chorus is what makes him the perfect choice. Those only familiar with his Criss Cross dates as a leader might find Adam Rogers an odd choice for the equally funky "Led Boots, but anyone who's heard him with Chris Potter or Lost Tribe knows that a more aggressive rock edge is, indeed, part of his rich vernacular.

Beck's own unpredictable career means that there are far fewer preconceptions to be catered to here than on Richman's other tribute albums, making Freeway Jam one of the most enjoyable—if not the most enjoyable—release of the series.

Track Listing: Freeway Jam; Over Under Sideways Down; Becks Bolero; Led Boots; El Becko; Diamond Dust; The Pump; Behind the Wall; Blue Wind; Brush With the Blues.

Personnel: Jeff Richman: rhythm guitar, guitar soloist (5), arranger, producer; Mitchel Forman: keyboards; Stu Hamm: bass; Vinnie Colaiuta: drums (1, 2, 4, 5, 7); Simon Phillips: drums (3, 6, 8-10); Steve Morse: guitar soloist (1); John Scofield: guitar soloist (2); Eric Johnson: guitar soloist (3); Adam Rogers: guitar soloist (4); Mike Stern: guitar soloist (6); Warren Haynes: guitar soloist (7); Chris Duarte: guitar soloist (8); Greg Howe: guitar soloist (9); Walter Trout: guitar soloist (10).

Record Label: Tone Center

Style: Fusion/Progressive Rock


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