Ever since his days with the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck has positioned himself as an experimentalist with the electric guitar. Through his pioneering days as a heavy rocker ( Truth, Beck-Ola
) as well as his groundbreaking fusion efforts ( Blow by Blow, Wired
), the iconoclastic Brit has displayed almost a tangible hunger to find new sounds. Little surprise then that he's been exploring the electronica terrain for his last three projects, including the recently released Jeff.
Here Beck & Co. incorporate rather than compartmentalize the musical and instrumental themes. Hearing “So What,” and “Pork-U-Pine" must be similar to riding with Beck in one of the souped-up hotrods pictured on the CD liner: the roar of his guitar playing on top of a rhythm track chassis that rattles on the turns but holds the corners, the latter in particular carrying such a visceral wallop, it’s tantamount to being inside the engine of such a vehicle itself. In contrast, “Plan B” uses acoustic guitars to create the first of many infectious hooks that appear on this disc, while the whimsically titled “Line Dancing with Monkeys” features sleek sinuous playing and “My Thing” adds dollops of funk to the mix, a densely-layered sound where bass and treble textures combine to create a massive resounding soundscape.
Jeff doesn’t maintain an altogether dangerous pace throughout, however. As with the previous pair of albums, the team of musicians and producers has created tracks allowing the guitarist to demonstrate his gift for the economical rendering of a beautiful melody and here that approach takes a couple different forms. The folk tune “Bulgaria” is given just a two-minute exploration that is, in turns, pretty, poignant and piercing. The original spiritual “Why Lord Oh Why?,” composed by long-time Beck keyboard comrade Tony Hymas, gets a treatment roughly double the length, but with no less a beautiful and gentle Beckian touch. This pair of tracks segue the album to a muted conclusion, after an often brainrattling ride, but the same sort of delicacy also appears long before the finish during “Seasons:” just when you might least expect it, the cacophony dies down for a softer interlude, this transition in keeping with the unpredictable logic that marks Beck's guitar playing throughout.
As is to be expected, the backing tracks displays a distinct monotony in direct contract to that unpredictability. Consequently, though you might wish some cuts were longer, the uniformly abbreviated playing times of three and half to four and a half minutes serves a better purpose throughout the rest of the album.
It may be true that innumerable artists could’ve made this album (and have already made similar ones), but it is also a fact no one could’ve made such a recording more his own than Jeff Beck. Imprinting his personality on this often-generic style with such authority, the eponymous title could be no more appropriate. He proves once again why he is arguably the most distinctive and dynamic electric guitarist on the planet.
Personnel: Jeff Beck; David Torn; Saffron; Dean Garcia; Tony Hymas; The London Session Orchestra; Will
Malone; Andy Wright; Beached Boys; Ronni Ancona; Steve Barney; Nancy Sorrell; Baylen Leonard.