Performing This Week... Live at Ronnie Scott's, recorded during a 2007 run at the renowned London club, is Jeff Beck's first release on the Eagle label after a long-standing tenure on Epic Records. It's an understatement to say it bodes well for the continued vigor of the man who replaced Eric Clapton in The Yardbirds.
Recent setlists haven't varied dramatically on Beck's last few tours, and the length of performances here never exceeds six minutes, so this isn't exactly a laboratory exercise in improvisation. But this seventy-minute cd isn't merely a cross-section of Jeff Beck's career suggesting his embrace of its different phases. Nor does it just offer an exhibition of the sequencing logic of sixteen selections that creates a cumulative momentum. Nor is it only a display of how the guitarist and his band do justice to this varied material.
Live at Ronnie Scott's constitutes a series of revelations about the love/hate affair Jeff Beck conducts with his instrument grounded in his mercurial touch. The bittersweet nuance he applies to "Nadia," for instance, is that of a wizened musician who has not just retained but honed his personality over the course of time. Equally sinewy and soft on "Stratus," the very sound of the British icon's guitar is a mix of blues and jazz tone no less carefully proportioned than one-time tourmate Stevie Ray Vaughan or, perhaps, even T-Bone Walker. (And it's arguable the iconoclastic Beck is as influential an innovator as the latter.)
In the midst of this emphatic illustration of individualism, Jeff Beck imbues the music he playsas well as his on-stage relationships with the musicians, here including drummer Vinnie Colaiuta and keyboardist Jason Rebellowith the pure joy of the moment. The foursome is fully engaged in creating the haunting mood of "Angel (Footsteps)." In ample demonstration of the abandon and the restraint at their collective command, the quartet tears through "Back's Bolero," then decelerates without missing a beat or note to deftly allow the leader to finger a few exquisite notes in quiet closing. And the infectious relish Beck demonstrates these days on stage also translates into a generosity of spirit and humility, so that precocious bassist Tal Wilkenfeld authors her own well-embroidered solo on "Cause We've Ended As Lovers."
Charles Shaar Murray deserves to gush in his liner notes for Jeff Beck Performing this Week... Live at Ronnie Scott's, but less of the British journalist's fractured prose and more photos of Beck on stage with his band would present a better visual counterpart to the dynamism of the music inside. Still, the sound quality of the concert mix, pristine and ever-so-present, is more than enough to compensate for those relatively minor design and packaging shortfalls. As much as it captures the vibrancy of the music within, this outstanding clarity might well represent a metaphor of Jeff Beck's approach to playing these days.
Personnel: Jeff Beck: guitars; Vinnie Colaiuta: drums; Jason Rebello: keyboards; Tal Wilkenfeld: bass.