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Music Review: Jeff Beck – Performing This Week… Live at Ronnie Scott’s

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Jeff Beck is one of the two or three greatest guitarists in the world. Period. End of sentence.

The fact that he has never sold anywhere near the amount of records, or achieved the same sort of notoriety as people like Eric Clapton or Jimmy Page (to cite two examples) is immaterial.

Over the course of his amazing career, Jeff Beck's unique imprint has been heard on landmark records ranging from the Yardbirds' "Shapes of Things" to his work with Rod Stewart in the first Jeff Beck Group.

But his most noteworthy recordings remain the jazz-rock fusion albums Blow By Blow and Wired. Working with great musicians like keyboardist Jan Hammer on these albums, Beck completely reshaped and redefined the instrumental rock genre by applying the "less is more" economics of rock guitar to the more improvisational tone of fusion jazz.

Where guys like John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, or even Carlos Santana could be all over the place on the six string, Beck was always much more about dramatic effect. What Jeff Beck could say in one short staccato blast on the Stratocaster often said more than all of the thousand notes per second scaling of a DiMeola or Santana ever could. Not surprisingly, Beck's legacy lives on today in guys like Joe Satriani and Eric Johnson.

Jeff Beck's new live album, performing this week…live at Ronnie Scott's, captures the best of the "guitar mechanic's" multiple night stand at London's Ronnie Scott's nightclub. Beck himself cherry picked what he considered the best performances from the concerts for this CD, which is also scheduled for a DVD release by Eagle Rock.

As always, Beck surrounds himself with a group of great musicians here, but none stand out more than female bassist extraordinaire Tal Wilkenfeld, whose funky bass popping provides a perfect counterpart to Beck's own frenetic playing.

But man, does Jeff Beck put on a guitar clinic here.

Opening with "Beck's Bolero," — the track he famously recorded for the album Truth backed by various members of Led Zeppelin and the Who — Beck stretches the possibilities he first explored there, even further here. Few guitarists on earth can make a guitar simultaneously sing and cry the way that Jeff Beck does. And on this track, Beck lets the listener know immediately that they will be getting everything he has in his considerable arsenal.

I've personally had the pleasure of seeing Jeff Beck perform in concert multiple times — many of which have been from seats down in front — and the guy simply never ceases to amaze me. Seriously, I could get lost for days watching this guy's fingering technique.

What he does on the whammy bar here on songs like a particularly "whammified" version of Wired's "Led Boots," can only be described as setting the fretboard on fire. One minute Beck is bending the notes in a thousand different directions, the next he is attacking the strings in thirty to sixty second bursts that say more in that time than a ten minute Yngwie Malmsteen solo ever could.

By the same token, Beck also has a unique gift for making his guitar "sing" in more ways than the best vocalist you could imagine ever could. Nowhere is that more apparent than on this album's takes on Stevie Wonder's "Cause We've Ended As Lovers" and especially the Beatles' "A Day In The Life," where Beck's crying guitar turns the song on it's ear, making it into a plaintive sort of cry.

Beck's guitar sings these songs without the need for lyrics, interpreting them every bit as effectively as a great singer ever could.

On performing this week…live at Ronnie Scott's, Jeff Beck provides ample proof, as if any were further needed, of just why he remains of the world's two or three premier guitarists.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.
  • http://stratoblogster.blogspot.com Stratoblogster

    Hey Glen,

    Cool post! I totally agree! I love this line:

    “…What Jeff Beck could say in one short staccato blast on the Stratocaster often said more than all of the thousand notes per second scaling of a DiMeola or Santana ever could…”

    cheers!

  • jeff Lyon

    Glen,
    You are so right on. Jeff has covered every base including Pavorotti,rap and reaggae. He’s a new keyboardist in David Sancious (sorry to see Jason go) for an upcoming UK,Japan, and Australia tour. No U.S. dates YET.. beginning January. Jeff Lyon

  • jeff Lyon

    OOPs, we left out the great and soulful work he did with Joss Stone (People Get Ready)chording on Imagene Heap’s “Blanket” and a guest apperance by Eric on which Jeff played slide… Jeff again

  • Brien Comerford

    Jeff Beck has been the greatest live concert guitarist since 1990. Now he’s in his prime at the age of 64. In addition to being an inimitable and peerless guitarist, Jeff Beck is also an animal loving vegetarian, hot rod mechanic and rugged landscaper. Jeff Beck = The Best.

  • http://theglenblog.blogspot.com Glen Boyd

    Sancious is a former alumnus of the E Street Band so I look particularly forward to these shows.

    -Glen

  • Stephen Brody

    I not only believe that the assesment that Beck is one of the 2or3 greatest guitarists in the world, I think Jeff has developed his skill to be considered as the greatest of all time.

  • Paul Roy

    I’ve only been waiting for his live DVD since, oh, when DVDs were invented. About time Jeff.

  • Doc

    This cd and the DVD in January will serve as an appetizer for what I am sure will be the best Jeff Beck touring band in many regards. Even though Rebello is a great jazz player, he was still an enfant on the synthesizer bends, as this was his first time doing such in playing with Jeff Beck. New keyboardist David Sancious is a fiery match for Jeff in that regard, and not since Jan Hammer will Jeff have had such a competent sparring partner. Additionally Sancious plays the heck out of the guitat and was influenced by Hendrix, Beck and McLaughlin. I imagine the music will be smoking as Colaiuta on drums and Miss Wilkenfeld on bass guitar(a certain up and comer to be recogned with) hold down the rhythm section. Can’t wait till they come to the USA.

  • Doc

    As much as I enjoyed the BBC special of some of this project, I do hope that the sound engineer does a better job of blending the instruments mix wise so that this tour does not sound like Jeff Beck on volume level 10; Vinnie Colaiuta on 7;
    Tal Wilkenfeld on 5.5; and David Sancious on 4.5.
    The band is too good not to be able to hear full spectrum of all the timbres.

  • Lars

    Jeff is lucky to have David Sancious on Keys. Sancious is a genius in his own right.

  • fabio

    His playing is so natural,like grabbin’ his head ,not different from !

  • http://blogcritics.org/archives/2008/11/10/112114.php BeckenFan

    … AND , when asked in The Rolling Stone interview , “What is it like to be the greatest guitar player in the world” , Eric Clapton replied , ” I don’t know , but I’ll ask Jeff Beck next time I see him …

    If you haven’t seen “Live at Ronnie Scott’s” find it on the bit torrents… It is just awesome…. 90 minutes of THE guitar mechanic himself…

    Thanks Jeff for all the years of great music….

  • RalphKramden

    Agree 1000% with all comments, and about fell out of my chair upon reading Clapton’s ACKNOWLEDGEMENT of ‘when i see beck i’ll ask him’ re: best guitarist. Just makes me physically ill The Master by all accounts – fellow musicians standing in awe of his prowess primarily, those who have a discerning ear, et al – is demonically-good on the fret and yet ‘The Others’ always get the glory (3-cord clapton, only-career-is-constant-resurrection-of-zeppelin page, etc). Long Live Beck!!

  • AlB

    Please note the BBC broadcast of the JB concert had errors in the broadcast level encoding and is the reason the stereo broadcast sounded odd..

  • Max The Axe

    The drummer Vinnie C. sums it all up when he says that Beck is a “mystic” of the guitar. This is a guitarist who is unbound by convention, and speaks from a deeper well of creativity and soul. While he pays homage to great players who influenced him (esp. John Mclaughlin) he has followed these trail blazes into his own unique territory.

    I’ve been a guitarist for over 40 years, myself…I’m pretty damned good at it, but there is not one single player on the planet who is in the same league as Beck. It isn’t that there aren’t players who exhibit greater techinique or mind-blowing chops, it’s that there is no-one who so perfectly reveals the soul as Beck, a humble, self-deprecating man, eschewing the trappings of “superstardom”, who nevertheless speaks with his guitar from depths unplumbed by any other, and the joy he experiences and evinces with every swoop and fade and flurry and divebomb is presented to the audience as it was received by the artist, a pure gift, from the hands of the ‘Governor’ himself.

    I’ve seen many great guitarists play live over the years (including 4 different Jeff Beck shows)…McLaughlin, John Williams, Al DiMeola, Eric Johnson, Paco DeLucia, et al…all very great players, but there is only one player who has ever brought actual tears to my eyes, perhaps the only one who ever could. The Governor is and always will be…Jeff Beck.