Sound: While players like Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page have become household names among the general public, Jeff Beck has often remained under the radar - at least in terms of record sales. When you talk to the hosts of guitarists that have come and gone over the years, however, Beck's name will inevitably pop up as being one of the most influential and innovative players over the past 50 years. It's been consistently hard to pigeonhole the former Yardbirds' guitarist genre-wise, and the latest live performance CD Performing This WeekLive At Ronnie Scott's is a prime example of his chameleon style. Featuring 16 cuts, the CD bounces from the blues to all-out rock to jazz fusion, with several of Beck's most famous instrumentals in the mix.
Live At Ronnie Scott's was recorded in 2007 over the course of several nights at the famous London club, and Beck apparently hand-selected which tracks would make the cut. Starting it all out is perhaps Beck's most well-known number, Beck's Bolero. Combining a bolero rhythm with blues-infused slide parts, the song was originally a collaboration with the one and only Jimmy Page. Interestingly enough there was originally some debate about which of the guitarists actually wrote this number, but it seems that has been cleared up - Page has been given the songwriting credit in the liner notes. In any case, Beck's Bolero not only highlights the strong technique of Beck, it's an instrumental with a base melody that is easily as memorable as plenty of songs with vocals
Throughout the disk you'll hear other well-known numbers like Scatterbrain, Led Boots, Behind The Veil (from the Grammy Award-winning album Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop), and Blast From The East. Scatterbrain is undeniably one of the highlights (as usual), with it's bumblebee-like, spastic sections at the beginning and end of the track. The song not only impresses through the amazing technique used, it also visits several genres in the course of the song. At times it's bluesy, other moments it's downright experimental, and toward the final moments there is an impressive jazz breakdown courtesy of keyboardist Jason Rebello. It should also be noted that 21-year-old Tal Wilkenfeld handily covers all of the bass duties.
For as many interesting licks or speed-driven riffs that Beck tackles, it's perhaps the moments of subtle phrasing that truly accentuates the guitarist's skill. The best example comes in Angel (Footsteps), a number that might not be quite as energetic or melodically fascinating as Scatterbrain, but still could be considered a highlight on the CD. Just listen to the last minute or so of the song, in which Beck hits incredibly high notes with a crystal clarity rarely heard these days. Those notes comes out as strong and clear as some of the gritty low tones on the record, and it beautifully conveys the intensity (and perfection) of Beck's playing. // 10
Lyrics: Although Jeff Beck has played with his share of vocalists throughout the years (everyone from Rod Stewart to Kelly Clarkson), Live At Ronnie Scott's is dedicated to only his instrumentals. // 10
Overall Impression: Hearing guitarists like Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, it becomes very clear that Jeff Beck must have been a key source of inspiration. The instrumentals we hear from contemporary guitar virtuosos today are a nod to Beck's compositions all the way back to the mid 1970s, and it's amazing to hear how timeless albums like Blow By Blow and Who Else! have remained. The material heard on Live At Ronnie Scott's covers about 3 decades, and at the age of 64 Beck still sounds flawless. Apparently a DVD of the show at Ronnie Scott's will be released at some point in the near future, but in the meantime you'll likely find a few video clips on YouTube. Definitely check them out because there are more than a few times on the CD where you'll be asking yourself, How is he actually making that sound?
While Clapton covered the blues territory and Santana always conquered the cool, Latin vibe, Jeff Beck dabbled in it all. It's been said that Beck doesn't even use that many effects. If that is indeed the case at Ronnie Scott's, he's a wonder of nature. It's unfortunate that Beck still has been somewhat of a secret among musicians and hardcore music enthusiasts, but hopefully a new generation of guitarists will be able to appreciate Beck's skill and creativity on the new CD. // 10