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Jeff Beck

Performing this week...Live at Ronnie Scott’s

Review by Bruce Stringer
There has been a buzz in recent years concerning the new, revitalized Jeff Beck – a man who has managed to re-invent himself yet again. Shedding the guitar-electronica (which had confused many long-term fans), our Mr. Beck returns center stage for his first official live recording since 1977’s Live With The Jan Hammer Group capturing the ephemeral moods and blistering performances from a stint at Ronnie Scott’s legendary club. Joining Jeff is the understated Jason Rebello on keyboards, veteran of the drum stool, Vinnie Colaiuta, and sensational Australian newcomer, Tal Wilkenfeld, on bass. The track selection consists of many from the fusion-era bible, classics that have been overlooked along with newer favorites and numbers dating from Jeff’s 1968 debut album, Truth, through to his most recent endeavors in guitar music.

Performing This Week… contains the elements that would place it firmly in the fusion guitar bag, classifying it with much of the popular material from the British guitar legend and making it (possibly) his most important recording in the last decade. All of the classic material is touched upon and there are a few surprises that Jeff has pulled out of his proverbial hat. All in all, this is a brilliant live document preceding his latest tour, which is reaching as far as Japan and – for the first time in 32 years – Australia. A DVD release from Ronnie Scott’s is scheduled in early 2009 and, with new management, it looks as though Jeff Beck is making a triumphant return to what he does best. Let’s hope that the recent and well-deserved public interest keeps him out of the garage just long enough to do a new studio album…or two!

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2009  Volume 1 at lulu.com/strangesound.
Track by Track Review
Beck’s Bolero
As the opener of many a recent show, “Beck’s Bolero” harks back to Beck’s blues-rock roots and the Truth LP, which launched his serious solo career. It ushers in the live set as a great little intro and, since the use of the “Bolero” in pop music died off in the early 70s with acts like Budgie and Deep Purple, signifies the beginning of Jeff’s career. The drums are crisp and dynamic during the build-up while the bass holds a firm, rhythmic punch. The keyboards are an homage to the original recordings’ piano player, Nicky Hopkins, but it’s Beck’s playful stroking of his wood axe (that violently turns into strangulation) that truly marks the start of something special.
Eternity’s Breath
It was quite a surprise to see this listed in the months preceding the release of this CD. What was Jeff Beck doing playing a Mahavishnu Orchestra track? The answer, however, might be in track 3 (below). This version of “Eternity’s Breath” is more an introduction, but allows Tal Wilkenfeld’s diligent bass work to shine through. Here she matches the Asiatic melodies note-for-note in the lead up to the main song. Colaiuta explores the hidden nuances between notes – as per the original’s Narada Michael Walden – and manages to keep the energy bursts unique and exciting throughout. Beck’s tip of the hat to McLaughlin, and company, stands up with its non-competitive nature; it may not have worked so well if treated as some sort of competition and Beck knows it!
Stratus
“Stratus” is one of the most famous jazz-fusion numbers from the early 1970s and features an instantly recognizable bass line and some cool synth and guitar interplay between Jan Hammer and the late Tommy Bolin. After the blatant theft and bastardization by Massive Attack it would seem that Jeff Beck has retrieved it and given it the treatment that it deserves. The original guitar work from the Spectrum album was by the incredible newcomer, Tommy Bolin (famous of Deep Purple, James Gang, etc) and the Mini-Moog lines were by (no surprise) Jan Hammer. It may be in dedication to Bolin that this number has made it in the set list of recent years, but it’s Beck’s guitar work that faithfully reproduces the spirit of what Bolin was about including Beck’s rare use of guitar effects. This is a standout number on this live release for many reasons. Fans that have followed Beck’s live work over the last decade would already be aware of how good his version is.
Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers
In any musician’s career there seems to be that one song which defines the art and craft of each performer. This could well be Beck’s signature tune, however – considering the number of pieces that he has re-invented – some may disagree. But listening to this performance – possibly one of the best I have ever heard – I would agree that this is his.  All of the performances are precise and soulful, dynamic and precise in their attack. Of the previous live versions that have circulated since the mid-1970s this has got to be one of – if not the – best. This song would be reason enough to purchase this release, one of Beck’s most important since Blow By Blow or Guitar Shop
Behind The Veil
With the involvement of Terry Bozzio and Tony Hymas (and the subsequent Guitar Shop release), Beck experimented with some reggae themes in a more modern setting. Beck had already re-worked the Beatles’ “She’s A Woman” into a reggae-inspired classic on 1975’s Blow By Blow and played on Stanley Clarke’s “Jamaican Boy,” so it is no surprise that he has dabbled in the style at intervals over the years. This version has the great Bozzio percussive vibe and pipe-synthesizer sound but with Wilkenfeld’s fat bass in place of the original synth bass. Sonically the piece is faithful, albeit a little harder edged. Colaiuta’s drumming has a different type of attack to Bozzio (so here might be an interesting conversation piece between the Bozzio / Colaiuta camps) but the live nature of the recording adds a unique dimension to the depth of the mix. 
You Never Know
With There And Back Beck managed to take many of the riffier elements of disco and funk and re-work them (with some very able musician-writers) into a 1980s modern twist on jazz-rock fusion. There has always been a tongue-in-cheek character in Beck’s work and, when taken in the live context, he pushes the envelope to some degree allowing his surrounding musicians to unfold and let loose. Here, the twist seems to be the slower tempo of the “chorus” riff, which is both interesting and works to great dramatic effect. Wilkenfeld’s slap bass playing is most suited to this and it’s perfectly clear that all are having a ball. You never know what these guys are capable of when Mr. Beck is at the wheel of this hot little Roadster!
Nadia
“Nadia” had re-defined Jeff Beck the guitarist in much the same way that “Where Were You” had taken the guitar so far away from any of the previous pioneering techniques that it left many listeners completely awestruck and bedazzled. Penned by Nitin Sawhney, the original electronica has been stripped bare and the live performers have breathed a fresh new life into it. As always, Beck’s plucked lines are followed through with his trademark tremolo arm pitched melody modulations and it is this that makes his impressive guitar playing so unique. The percussion sounds rich and live while the bass and synth performances add fresh dynamics. “Nadia” is a modern classic that Beck has made his own; one might doubt the abilities of other players to follow suit in such an original fashion for there are few Jeff Becks in the world but many clones.
Blast From The East
Jennifer Batten’s time-bending masterpiece has been given the corkscrew treatment and is now a sideways groove thing that takes a few listens to comprehend. The most notable difference is the drum arrangement, which tries to bring the song into triplet feel and, although some moments are an absolute blast, there are times when it just feels way too much. The song serves as a platform for Colaiuta’s drum solo and bridge into the mighty “Led Boots” and it’s during this solo break that comprehension really hits home as to how good his drumming actually is. This version with the scaled down lineup is quite mind boggling but I found myself comparing with the live Tokyo TV concert take in 1999 (with Batten on second guitar) which makes for a larger wall of sound. 
Led Boots
Another cult classic of the fusion era, this time from the hugely successful Wired album, the introduction retains the crazy off-time, syncopated drum part and chordal introduction before leaping head-first into riff madness. Wilkenfeld holds shotgun while Beck shoots spitfire bursts at his nemesis of the skies, Jason Rebello, who does his best Jan Hammer impersonation. Or is all what it seems? Rebello’s playing seems to take a huge evolutionary step forward (from his precursor) in that he has some unnatural psychic ability to parry Beck’s barrage of rapid-fire guitar assault. And all this bundled up in the JB modesty that makes for that ironic smirk - nasty stuff!
Angel (Footsteps)
Jeff Beck’s slide guitar work is featured in this tune, which borders on New Age-Reggae and is upbeat in its delivery. Here the development of the track in its successive footfalls builds from a light, pillow of softly tiptoed steps to a major crescendo and back again. The live feel of some finely microphoned skins are a nice leap forward from the studio recording, which feels somewhat flat compared to this. The bass and keyboards are also elevated in the same manner. Maybe this has a lot to do with the size of the Ronnie Scott performances (as opposed to, for instance, the technically perfect yet much larger Tokyo TV performance of 1999). The intimacy makes for an almost haunting atmosphere with some spooky fretwork that breaks the serenity. Here Beck truly shines.
Scatterbrain
Possibly one of Beck’s most incredible fusion pieces (thanks partly to the writing and playing of Max Middleton and the arrangement and production of Sir George Martin of Beatles fame), “Scatterbrain” has returned to the live set in recent times, albeit with a slightly different arrangement on guitar. The track starts with some moody chord work before the diminished descent into the 9/8 madness of the song proper. Tension tears through the speakers and the furious attack of the melody line (with truly violent temperament) has a white-knuckled grip on the listener. The assault is truly astounding as one of fusion’s more precise pieces nears the 4/4 solo relief. The keyboard work is something to behold as the electric piano lines consist of a catalogue of key change jazz motifs. Then, returning to the insanity there is finally a reprieve with a half-time groove, which is a nice surprise and really takes this track to the next level. It is something one might have expected from a late-70s performance but the re-invention factor here is running on all cylinders. This song a personal favorite and the version from this live album is one of the best I have ever heard. What esprit de corps this band has!
Goodbye Pork Pie Hat / Brush With The Blues
Again, Beck pulls the rug out by performing the introduction to “…Pork Pie Hat” before bursting into the modern day take on the seedier style of “Brush With The Blues”. Over recent years, Beck seems to have taken this to new heights and it seems to be a mainstay in his live sets. The sheer simplicity of the number makes for same great solo work and it’s obvious that Beck’s new band is working with a great chemistry. It’s big, it’s bawdy and (despite the occasional moment of swinging lunacy) makes for some heavy mental fun. This is for lovers of the blues and those smoky late night bar moments.
Space Boogie
Not since Simon Phillips sat behind the drum kit has “Space Boogie” been played live in Jeff’s set, and what Phillips achieved with his double-bass footwork eked out a position for him as one of the top session drummers ever to set foot on this world. With Mr. Colaiuta in the fray, Beck has brought back the song and revitalized it with the energy of a new, excited band of players. You can imagine the poor Colaiuta sweating up a storm with all that double-bass footwork. The timing transitions between 7/4 and 4/4 are flawless and the solo work is first rate across the board. Beck adds some interesting warbles in the background, always doing something without upsetting the solo work of any of his fellow performers. Some Jan Hammer moments appear between the insane piano improvisations and Beck manages to always return to the melodies that captivated a generation of guitarists back in 1980. 
Big Block
Another live staple, “Big Block” (from the Guitar Shop era) gets back to some nasty, head-nodding blues moodiness. Instead of synth bass, Wilkenfeld’s concretely sealed octave-bass playing sets up a seriously sustainable front for the wacky meandering fretwork of our Mr. Beck, who schizophrenically delivers some of the most dynamic conversations on lunacy this side of Freud. But his reality is a shared one and his band of merry men couldn’t be further removed from white coats or rubber walls. Now who can call that madness?
A Day In The Life
This classic, from a little-known British group called “The Beatles,” is given the placid treatment and a complexity of arrangement that would make Lennon and McCartney proud as punch to hear. The sheer technical gusto and musicality are light years ahead of the Fab Four and the re-working of the orchestral sections (with such a limited cast of players) is something else. Whether one is a Beatles fan or not, this is another brilliant piece that Beck has made his own. The dynamic input of Wilkenfeld and Colaiuta make the precision pop moments come to life before the cacophony of tribal elements unnerve the local beasts into fight or flight mode. And Beck is there waiting, with unstable cat calls and growls, bursts of hissing Hydras and feedbacking macaws until this jungle of escaping beasties is suddenly quieted by the explosion of the heavens opening.
Where Were You
With the development of the Wilkinson Roller Nut Beck managed to complete the studio recording of this piece during the Guitar Shop sessions and, although appearing to be a simple tune, is an extremely difficult number to play live. I was lucky enough to see Jeff Beck perform in 2002 where – through no fault of his own – external, environmental sound issues played against him making “Where Were You” an almost impossible task, though it was a success, nonetheless. Here, Beck manages to squeeze the notes and bend his whammy bar with melodic precision creating one of the most admirable performances I have ever heard. What a way to end the proceedings!
 
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