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Man, does Jeff Beck put on a guitar clinic here.

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

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.

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, Ultimate Classic Rock, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.

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