Jeff Beck is the most explosive guitarist of his generation. Since he first stepped into the spotlight as a replacement for Eric Clapton in the Yardbirds, he has played with an impulsive, unorthodox logic all his own. It's an approach he has continued to hone through pioneering forays in the realm of jazz-rock fusion, as presented by Blow By Blow, Wired and later collaborations with Jan Hammer and Beatles' producer George Martin.
Today, at the age of 62, Beck continues to be a source of inspiration for air guitarists far and wide. His two stints on the road in 2006 suggested he may very well be the ultimate embodiment of electric guitar pyrotechnics. An artist who usually tours only sporadically, an east coast tour of America in autumn came close on the heels of a similar west coast swing in the spring, and the gigs produced Official Bootleg USA '06 (available at shows and on-line). It finds the elements of Beck's music more tightly fused than ever.
Official Bootleg USA '06
Here Beck's band is closely in formation with him as they play, but there's not a lot of collective improvisation going on. Drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Pino Palladino and keyboardist Jason Rebello play along with their leader, as Beck himself continues to unfurl his seemingly endless imagination to findor more accurately, impart subtlety to familiar songs like "Blue Wind. The disc sacrifices the vocals of Beth Hart as offered on stage, but this only reaffirms how the live sets progressed almost non-stop from beginning to end. It's as if a Beck show these days is as one long improvisation.
Make no mistake, though, the concert presentation is well paced, as it no doubt should be, given the fact set lists remained fairly constant through both tours. Yet with Beck parlaying his own inimitable brand of unpredictability from moment to moment, there's no sense of ennui. The flourishes of Colaiuta act as necessary touchpoints after such stratospheric journeys as the one Beck conducts on "Brush With The Blues: here his deconstructionist jazz sensibility is never more evident.
The guitarist's fondness for melody broadens the dynamic range of the fifteen tracks. "Cause We've Ended As Lovers features Beck using a feather-like touch he utilizes again, to an even greater extent, in the second encore, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow. "Two Rivers" finds him displaying a restraint at the other end of the spectrum from the frenzied abandon he exhibits on "Scatterbrain." But it's "Nadia," from the recent album You Had It Coming, and "Angel, off Who Else?, where Beck finds the finest nuance to etch the pretty motifs in the tunes.
Re-forging elements of his past would appear to be the impetus behind Beck's current public appearances, though that's not obvious on this generic looking, no-frills package. Nevertheless, the techno leanings of his last studio album, Jeff, are virtually nowhere to be found, replaced instead with bonecrushing hard rock riffing reminiscent of early albums with the Jeff Beck Group; Beck's "Bolero sounded of a piece with the sleek sturm und drang of "Led Boots.
Not coincidentally, Truth and Beck-Ola were reissued in October 2006 with bonus tracks aplenty on Legacy Recordings, so it made perfect sense for Beck to hearken back to that phase of his career. Yet even in 1968, Jeff Beck eschewed the cock rock caricaturing of Jimmy Page who formed Led Zeppelin from the remains of The Yardbirds after Beck's departure. The recent remastered and expanded editions of the Jeff Beck Group's two albums give further credence to Beck's visionary status, arguably superior to Zeppelin in both concept and execution.
The grandly titled Truth is something of a glorious train wreck produced by Beck's then manager, Mickie Most. The latter's studio credentials were suspect, to put it mildly, even at the time and look all the more so as the album is remastered to include extra tracks from a variety of sources. Yet the presence of bonus stereo mixes of tracks such as "I've Been Drinking and "Rock My Plimsoul don't compensate for the execrable production afforded the original recordings overseen by Most. A self-style pop hit maker at best, Most's lack of technical knowledge begs the question of what this album might sound like had its depth matched its color.
The innate peculiarities of Beck's guitar playing transcend the backwards guitar on a mono version of "Beck's Bolero and the distorted tones on "Hi Ho Silver Lining that effectively end the pop phase of his post-Yardbirds career. (The legacy of that group remains grievously underestimated, due no doubt in part to lack of access to their records, official and otherwise). Under Most's tutelage, and with the in absentia management of Peter Grant, who was also managing Led Zeppelin at the time, the Jeff Beck Group's tale is one of plunder and careerism: to hear the artist himself, in recent interviews, so blithely dismiss his own lack of purpose is a bit offputting, but totally in keeping with Beck's idiosyncratic character.
During interviews included in these award-winning packages, Beck is effusive, and rightly so, in his praise of then fledgling vocalist Rod Stewart. In these pre-solo career days, Rod The Mod displayed a command of old-school swagger that never descended to caricature (the canned audience effects on a track like "Blues Deluxe" ensuring that.) What with the abundance of such blues (conspicuously absent on the second album except in the form of outtakes such as "Sweet Little Angel ), it's hard to avoid Zeppelin comparisons, especially when listening to Truth, where the bittersweet acoustic textures of "Greensleeves" provide such a contrast in temperance to the lethal leads Beck lets rip with on "Let Me Love You.
The Jeff Beck Group
Perhap if only accidentally, the force of the quartet's personality comes through here, all the more so as they play on Beck-Ola as if only to fill up the time. The comical fills Beck inserts surrounding Stewart's caterwaul on "Ain't Superstitious depict a group not about to take it too seriously. Which, as Beck himself admits, was part of the problem in keeping the Jeff Beck Group together.
Interpersonal friction and paucity of original material are ongoing themes represented vividly on the second group effort by the presence of not one, but two Elvis Presley covers: "All Shook Up sounds made for its riff, but horns might have usefully decorated "Jailhouse Rock and given the album some of the polish it definitely lacks. "Spanish Boots suggests a band lacking ideas, and crucially, the disciplineand perhaps the objective, astute production guidanceneeded to bring them to fruition.
If Most's production can't be much improved by Peter Mew's digital mastering, the stereo separation is, oddly or not, most noticeable on pianist Nicky Hopkins' "Girl From Mill Valley. The treacly tune is neatly circumscribed by long, arching lines from Beck, the likes of which reappear on the Beck-Ola album closer. "Rice Pudding progresses from a pile driving opening riff through which the band moves into more spacious realms. Their collective motion comes to an abrupt stop as if the machine ran out of tape. It's an oddly fitting close to the album, mirroring the flameout of the group.
Conversing with British journalist Charles Shaar-Murray for each album reissue, Beck himself rues the dayalbeit only slightlythat the group imploded just prior to their scheduled slot at Woodstock in 1969: one wonders what their impact might have been and how that single appearance might have changed the course of their career.
By including key cuts from both Truth and Beck-Ola in his most recent live appearances, Beck gives further credence to their ongoing influence, and his own too. The two expanded remasters reaffirm the vision of this guitar hero non-pareil and cast his subsequent work, as captured on the official "bootleg," in a newly favorable light. Further such activity on both fronts may eventually enable the mainstream audience to catch up on this magnificent musical maverick.
Tracks and Personnel
Official Bootleg USA '06
Tracks: Bolero; Stratus; You Never Know; 'Cause We've Ended; Behind The Veil; Two Rivers; Star Cycle; Big Block; Nadia; Angels; Scatterbrain; Led Boots; Pork Pie/Brush; Over The Rainbow.
Personnel: Jeff Beck: guitar; Vinnie Colaiuta: drums; Pino Palladino: bass; Jason Rebello: keyboards.
Tracks: Shapes Of Things; Let Me Love You; Morning Dew; You Shook Me; Ol' Man River; Greensleeves; Rock My Plimsoul; Beck's Bolero; Blue's Deluxe; I Ain't Superstitious; I've Been Drinking (Stereo Mix); You Shook Me (Take One); Rock My Plimsoul (Stereo Mix); Beck's Bolero (Mono Single Version); Blues Deluxe; Tallyman (Single Version); Love Is Blue (L'Amour Est Bleu); Hi Ho Silver Lining (Stereo Mix).
Personnel: Jeff Beck: guitar; Micky Waller: drums; Ron Wood: bass; Rod Stewart: vocals; John Paul Jones: keyboards; Nicky Hopkins: piano; Jimmy Page: guitar; Keith Moon: tympani.
Tracks: All Shook Up; Spanish Boots; Girl From Mill Valley; Jailhouse Rock; Plynth (Water Down The Drain); The Hangman's Knee; Rice Pudding; Sweet Little Angel; Throw Down A Line; All Shook Up (Early Version); Jailhouse Rock (Early Version).
Personnel: Jeff Beck: guitar; Tony Newman: drums; Ron Wood: bass; Rod Stewart: vocals; Nicky Hopkins: piano.
Visit Jeff Beck on the web