Les Paul passed away during 2009 at the ripe old age of 94. He was a recording star and one of the best guitarists in music history. If that weren’t enough, he made his own guitars, making the Les Paul model one of most respected and valued instruments. This pedigree would have been enough for most people, but his recording techniques and innovations may have been his greatest accomplishment.
Jeff Beck is one of music’s greatest living guitarists and has been so for nearly 50 years now. He is a double inductee into the Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame, and his fusions of rock and jazz have been both creative and innovative.
Jeff Beck decided to throw a party to honor the old master. He invited some friends to join him on stage at one of Les Paul’s favorite haunts, The Iridium Jazz Club in New York City. Sharing the stage with him are the husband and wife team of Imelda May and Darrell Higham. Higham is a rockabilly artist pure and simple and May is basically a blues singer. Stand up bassist deluxe, Al Gare, drummer Stephen Rushton, and keyboardist Jason Rebello complete the basic band. A brass section of Dave Priseman, Leo Green, and Lou Marini are on stage for the second half of the show. Special guests include Trombone Shorty, Gary U.S. Bonds, and Brian Setzer.
Jeff Beck made the wise decision to keep everything under control and to divide the show into segments. What emerged was one of the better concerts and films I have seen and heard during the past few years and an enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours.
The first segment is rockabilly with such tunes as “Baby Let’s Play House,” “Double Talkin’ Baby,” and “Cruisin’” which immediately ramps up the energy. Beck even takes the old warhorse, “Train Kept A Rollin’” for a ride.
The second segment features May as the vocalist as they travel through the Les Paul/Mary Ford songbook. She has the perfect voice to interpret this material. “How High The Moon,” “Sitting On Top Of The World,” “Bye Bye Blues,” “Vaya Con Dios,” and “Mockin’ Bird Hill” are all fitting tributes. May’s vocal control and enunciation on “Tiger Rag” makes it a highlight.
The third section, complete with the brass section, travels in a number of directions. Beck’s guitar work on the classic instrumentals, “Sleepwalk” and “Apache” clearly presents him at his best and most precise. “Walkin’ In The Sand” is Jeff Beck playing the blues and Imelda May singing the blues. “New Orleans” by Gary U.S. Bonds is always welcome.
The concert comes full circle with another Rockabilly section. Brian Setzer with “Twenty Flight Rock” and rousing versions of “Rock Around The Clock” and “Shake, Rattle & Roll” bring the show to a satisfying close.
The concert was filmed well as the emphasis is always on the music. Beck is clearly the star of the show, but he is wise enough to step back when necessary and let others take the lead.
Rock ‘n’ Roll Party Honoring Les Paul is a fitting tribute to Les Paul. Hopefully, somewhere he is smiling and applauding along with the audience.