Guitarist Joe Beck's career has spanned fifty years, mostly below the below the radar since he has not spent much time as a leader, but rather has played behind many performers, inside and outside of jazz. His talent has been recognized by his receiving the Most Valuable Player Award five times by the National Academy of Recording Arts And Sciences during his thirty years of composing music for TV and movies.
In any case, the two releases below show that Beck is not only quite capable of leading, but that he also has something to say, and more than enough technique to say it. Perhaps his lack of recognition lies in his stylistic eclecticism, making it difficult to paste a simple label on his music. But this, on these recordings, ends up being more of a strength than a weakness.
Whaling City Sound
Trio 7 is the kind of record that can only be made when everyone involved can relax and just let the music go where it will. In the liner notes, bassist Santi Dibriano and drummer Thierry Arpino relate how they spent two days at Beck's Connecticut home having fun while they explored the tunes.
This feeling is resonantly audible from the opening deep groove of John Coltrane's "Impressions." Beck maintains connections to many styles, including progressive rock and funk, and he can shift gears, as well as which electronic effect he uses, at will.
There is no getting around how amazing the ten minute "Alone Together" is. A well-known romantic standard, the trio takes it into uncharted territory stylistically far removed from anything you might have heard before. It is edgy, dangerous and full of sharp, pungent energy that is passed around from Beck to Dibriano to Arpino and back. At the same time, the tune, while bent, is never broken during the twists and turns they take.
"Laura" is also given a different rhythmic treatment and taken up-tempo, turning it into something new. All is not just groove and fire, however. "My Romance" (which also appears on Coincidence, below) is taken in a light-stepping, buoyant manner, and "(I Don't Stand ) A Ghost Of A Chance With You" is given the full romantic ballad treatment.
This fine session ends with the solidly swinging "You And The Night And The Music" that turns into a Beck burner with Dibriano and Arpino matching him and pushing back. Wonderful and inventive music, extremely well done.
Joe Beck / John Abercrombie
Whaling City Sound
Primarily because of his long and fruitful relationship with ECM, guitarist John Abercrombie is much better known than Beck in both name and style, which is considered adventurous and deep. However, by his own admission, Abercrombie has never really left the tradition, but rather extended it in his own personal way.
What is soon obvious from this meeting is that Beck and Abercrombie have much in common musically. While it is fairly easy to differentiate the two men tonally (Abercrombie is on the left and Beck is on the right), stylistically they match each other and overlap a surprising amount. That they get along well is evident by the two-week December, 2007 European tour in support of the album.
Coincidence consists of a mix of five standards, ranging from "How Deep Is The Ocean" to "My Romance" (which also appears on Trio 7), four blues-related numbers of differing kinds like Miles Davis' "All Blues" and Ornette Coleman's "The Turnaround," and three originals, "Vingt-six" and "Just A Waltz" by Abercrombie and "Mikie Likes It" by Beck.
The standards are particularly interesting in that deep improvising involves maintaining contact with the tune in such a way that the listener always knows which tune it is and where the players are in it. Merely improvising on the changes, which can be interesting, many times devolves into exercises, yet here both players manage to find the identifying kernel of tunes like "My Funny Valentine" and "My Romance" and stay in touch with it, greatly increasing our listening pleasure.
Abercrombie's tunes, which are of non-standard melodic and harmonic structure, allow us to get lost in their musical abstraction, while responding to their beauty. The blues and its variants provide a well-known meeting place for players, who then can show their stuff as they balance between fidelity to the pentatonic and using their knowledge of jazz harmony.
Coincidence is a wonderful session, with many fine moments produced by both Beck and Abercrombie individually as well as together.
Tracks and Personnel
Tracks: Impressions; But Beautiful; Laura; My Romance; Alone Together; Cry Me A River; A Little Blue; Dancing To San Xavier; (I Don't Stand) A Ghost Of A Chance With You; You And The Night And The Music.
Personnel: Joe Beck: guitar; Santi Dibriano: bass; Thierry Arpino: drums.
Tracks: Beautiful Love; Vingt-six; I Should Care; Israel; How Deep Is The Ocean; Mikey Likes It; My Funny Valentine; All Blues; My Romance; The Turnaround; Just A Waltz; Things Ain't What They Used To Be.
Personnel: Joe Beck: guitar; John Abercrombie: guitar.