Jeff Beck


A couple of weeks ago I had the opportunity to read the text from a heated discussion: a thread that had appeared in a USA Forum. The topic? "What happened to guitar solos?" Of course, most of the arguments were quite predictable, just like the sighs for a long-gone era. There were also many examples, some quite well-known, others that weren't. This discussion came back to me a few days later, when I turned my faithful radio on (it's always tuned to the radio station from the nearby NATO base) and I had the chance to listen to: Godsmack, Rage Against The Machine, The White Stripes, Staind, Black Sabbath, Saliva and Queens Of The Stone Age (what was missing? Audioslave, Tool, Mars Volta?). It's pretty obvious that, when confronted with this scenario, some would say: "Come back, Zep, all is forgiven". Quite a few have said it, in fact: How The West Was Won - the triple CD of unreleased Led Zeppelin live tapes - went straight to number one the day it came out. Sure, the "guitar solo" topic is a heated one. What "playing guitar" means, too. And if we keep in mind that for some people Kurt Cobain or Thurston Moore are good guitar players... well, the situation is pretty hopeless (in England is even worse!).

Inventive intros, moody solos that are always on the edge, highly original timbres: these are the qualities that have always been peculiar to Jeff Beck since his Yardbirds days - almost forty years ago! -, not the "long, self-indulgent" solos that many nowadays love to hate. So I was more than a bit perplexed when some guys called him "a metal player" the first time I had the opportunity to catch him live, one night in 1998. He had been silent since Guitar Shop from 1989 - I'm not counting Frankie's House and the like. Beck (that's his name, right?) took the stage with the support of a "black house" rhythm section and of Jennifer Batten's Midi (and so "orchestral") guitar. The following year, Who Else! offered a varied program, highlighting the "explosive with finesse" atmosphere of that concert (What Mama Said, Brush With The Blues, Blast From The East, Space For The Papa), and so those techno/hip hop rhythms. This choice was confirmed in the Pro Tools dimension of You Had It Coming (2001), a short album that seemed to be somewhat boring (or was it Beck that had become bored while working on it?).

The new album, Jeff, brings good news. Those who hate the "versatile rigidity" of the machines will not enjoy it: there is a "real" rhythm section (Dean Garcia and Steve Barney) which sounds pretty much like a mechanical one, lotsa loops. But the variety of approaches by different producers makes this CD varied and quite easy to enjoy - on very different levels. There is a lot of blues, at times literally. David Torn manipulates two tracks (Plan B and Line Dancing With Monkeys), with very good results. JB's Blues sees the instrumental participation of Tony Hymas, just like the explosive Why Lord Oh Why, which closes the album. My Thing successfully updates James Brown, while Pay Me No Mind (Beck himself on vocals!) pays homage to Cliff Gallup. True, some things are not so successful, and Hot Rod Honeymoon borders on novelty. But since for Jeff Beck the real proof on the music is on a stage, and a record should only be an approximation or a souvenir...

(To promote this "techno" CD Jeff Beck is now on tour with Tony Hymas and Terry Bozzio.)

Beppe Colli

© Beppe Colli 2003 | Aug. 26, 2003