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Jeff Beck: Live at BB King's Blues Club

Doug Collette By

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Jeff Beck
Live at BB King's Blues Club
Sony Music/Epic
2004

Leave it to Jeff Beck to make a brand new recording available only online within six months of his last studio release. Live is an erratic but nevertheless brilliant piece of work by an erratic and brilliant artist.

Recorded last September at BB King's House of Blues in New York, this CD constitutes a reunion of Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop trio. Playing with keyboardist Tony Hymas and drumming monster Terry Bozzio, the iconoclastic British guitar icon revisits, albeit somewhat tentatively, old favorites from his pioneering fusion days past, as well as selections from his most recent recordings, shorn for the most part, of their techno trappings. The highlights are the one of a kind cuts "People Get Ready" and "A Day in the Life," that a master interpretive artist ultimately makes the most of-and that's exactly what Beck does.

It takes a while to get there though. This sixty-minute plus recording contains sixteen tracks, most in the 4-5 minute length range, and Beck sounds: a) tentative b)bored on tunes like "Freeway Jam" and "Scatterbrain," both originally recorded on his breakthrough instrumental album Blow by Blow. He hits the notes of both themes and solos at an angle, as if he didn't care to produce resounding impact or is too tired of the tunes to care; oddly, his diffidence makes them all the more listenable, adding en element of suspense to the performance that's definitely preferable to a note-perfect renditions shorn of all emotional investment.

In the slightly contrary fashion that marked so much of Beck's career, the disc picks up speed by shifting gears via slowing down (appropriate since Beck's a hot rod fanatic) with ballads. The stinging bittersweet flavor of "Nadia" carries over into "Season" with a similar poignant pulse, while "Angel(Footsteps)" is haunting in a way such intense sound rarely is: the power in Beck's playing is undeniable, even when he plays in a comparatively understated (for him) approach and to hear him accomplish such atmospheric results from the stage is testament to his genius.

No more so than the way he takes Lennon/McCartney's famous climax to Sgt Pepper and turns it to his own ends. Originally recorded as a tribute to producer George Martin, who produced both the Beatles and Beck, Beck brings out the duality of the tune and injects the famous coda with all the ominous overtones the authors' ever intended. Likewise, Beck brings a deeply soulful, almost religious feel to "People Get Ready," the Curtis Mayfield tune Beck originally recorded with erstwhile vocalist Rod Stewart; Beck elicits the yearning as well as the redemptive qualities from the song in their respective glory.

There's a deeper blues tint to that track than in "Brush with the Blues" itself, but the gospel feel is such that it's almost surprising, given the fanatic response Beck receives throughout the rest of this performance, that the crowd did not start singing along. Perhaps they didn't dare intrude any more than Hymas, who stays respectfully in the back ground, alternately echoing guitar riffs with synthesizers and sprinkling in little piano parts(not mention the bass), while Bozzio nearly challenges Beck at some points-hear "Savoy," recalling the great Elvin Jones/John Coltrane drum duets.

If that sounds like hyperbole, take a couple listens to this CD and see if you're not at least somewhat amazed at the sound of this music—even without much production, it is gigantic—and the technique of the guitarist at the center of it.


Tracks: 1. Roy's Toy 2. Psycho Sam 3. Big Block 4. Freeway Jam 5. Brush With The Blues 6. Scatterbrain 7. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat 8. Nadia 9. Savoy 10. Angel (Footsteps) 11. Seasons 12. Where Were You 13. You Never Know 14. A Day In The Life 15. People Get Ready 16. My Thing

Personnel: Jeff Beck: guitars; Tony Hymas: keyboards; Terry Bozzio: drums


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