I’ll be the first to admit that although I’ve always been a fan of Jeff Beck’s guitar playing, I have not faithfully kept up with every twist and turn in his (mostly) brilliant career. I have heard enough in recent years to know that he has lost none of his incredible command over his instrument, nor his pyrotechnic inclinations, but with all of the greats, one hopes that their expression gets deeper and more personal with the passing years, and this amazing one hour and 40 minutes of music (21 tracks), captured at the famous and intimate Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London in 2007, certainly bears that out.
The sheer range of tunes played by Beck and his spectacularly talented trio of mates—drummer Vinnie Colaiuta, keyboardist Jason Rebello and wunderkind bassist Tal Wilkenfeld (an angelic-looking young woman who’s right at home with the wily vets)—is staggering: Everything from blues to jazz to fusion to the most lyrical ballads imaginable, funk, reggae, even a dash of Beatles—a splendid and imaginative “A Day in the Life” that would have John Lennon grinning ear to ear. You gotta like a set that includes tunes by Jimmy Page (“Beck’s Bolero”), John McLaughlin, Stevie Wonder (a transcendent “Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers”), Charles Mingus (“Goodbye Porkpie Hat”!), Curtis Mayfield, Muddy Waters and Imogen Heap. Heap is one of three guests to join the festivities as singer fronting the otherwise all-instrumental lineup—she sings her own “Blanket” and then returns later for Muddy’s “Rollin’ and Tumblin’” (with Beck in Hendrix mode). Speaking of that tune, which was popularized in the rock era by Cream, Beck’s old friend Eric Clapton also turns up for a pair of searing blues numbers, “Little Brown Bird” and “You Need Love.” It’s so great seeing two of the finest axe-slingers of all time going toe-to-toe in a good-spirited duel. (The winner… aw, I’m not touching that one—they both kill!) The third guest is another young ’un—British soul singer Joss Stone, who ably fills the shoes of Rod Stewart on “People Get Ready.”
I think it’s safe to say that Beck is wizard of the highest order when it comes to slide and whammy bar effects, and the precision of his playing and the purity of his tone in general is something to behold. (Throughout he plays a Fender Strat through a stack of Marshalls; no surprise there.) This guy isn’t in the pantheon of guitar gods for nothin’! If he occasionally looks like he’s showing off, so what—he can pull it off. He had me practically laughing out loud at some of the outrageous moves he pulls off with seeming ease. Some of the fusion excursions left me a little cold (always have), but nothing here is so long that you’ll be tapping your fingers waiting for what comes next—which is usually something completely different from what preceded it. The sublime moments come often and are many, and what an ending: “Where Were You,” played as a duet with keyboardist Rebello, is positively breathtaking.
It just goes to show, there is still much to be learned from the old masters.
(An added treat is extensive bonus interview footage of Beck talking about his music, the band and his guests, and of the band members talking about playing with Beck.)
Directed by Stuart Watts. Audio recorded and mixed by Alan Branch.
Beck: One of the Top Ten All-Time rock guitarists? I think so. Let me know at email@example.com.