Iconic guitarist Jeff Beck played a string of 6 shows at the famous Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London in late November of 2007. Beck's band for these gigs included the always-amazing Vinnie Colaiuta on drums, Jason Rebello on keys, and on bass - one of most impressive young players to hit the jazz fusion scene in years; Tal Winkenfeld. The shows were recorded, and the resulting release, Performing This Week... Live at Ronnie Scott's (Eagle Records), features what Beck considers to be the best versions of the various songs. It's a fantastic collection of tracks that just happens to be one of the best fusion releases of 2008.
One of the many strengths of this album is the band itself. This is the same group that caused quite a stir at the 2007 Crossroads Guitar Festival. I was lucky enough to be in attendance that day, and like many others, was eager to hear more from Beck's great band. Now we finally have the chance.
The set list on Live at Ronnie Scott's spans Beck's entire career. After opening with his signature tune "Beck's Bolero," the band dives head-long into jazz fusion territory with Mahavishnu's "Eternity's Breath," followed by the Billy Cobham classic "Stratus." Right from the outset, it's clear that Beck's unique style is a key driving force for the entire band. Beck rarely plays a melody the same way twice. Instead, he fearlessly throws himself into the songs, seemingly with a "Let's see what happens when I do this" mentality. This approach lends itself to some great group improvisation. If you're going to hang in there as a member of Beck's band, you clearly have to be a great listener.
One of the album's high points is the Blow By Blow classic "Cause We've Ended As Lovers," thanks in large part to a stellar Tal Wilkenfeld bass solo. The 22-year-old Wilkenfeld made a big splash with her 2007 solo album Transformation, which featured no less a guitarist than Wayne Krantz (who rarely does sideman work anymore). I have no doubt we'll be hearing lots of great work from Wilkenfeld for years to come. Vinnie Colaiuta fans need to pick up this album as well. There are tons of great Colaiuta moments here, such as the minute-plus solo he peels off at the end of "Blast From The East," before leading into one of Beck's fusion standards - "Led Boots." Jason Rebello is also rock-solid throughout; check out his high-energy piano solo on "Space Boogie." Killer stuff.
The reggae influenced "Behind the Veil" has never been one of my favorite Beck tunes, until I heard this version. The entire band is in top form on this song, and Beck turns in his most energetic solo on the album. The band's dynamic take on the Beatles opus "A Day In The Life" is another example where everyone shines.
Live at Ronnie Scott's is loaded with great examples of Beck's trademark touch and expressiveness. Beck hasn't used a pick in years, preferring instead the more personal touch of his bare fingers. Actually, I read somewhere that he gave up on picks because he kept dropping them onstage anyway. Regardless of his motivation, the dynamics he can pull out of a guitar using only his bare hands is stunning. The best example is probably the album's closer "Where Were You." The original Jeff Beck's Guitar Shop version of the beautiful ballad has for years had guitarists the world over asking, "How does he do that?" This live version will invoke a similar response, I'm sure.
Beck was at the forefront of the early jazz fusion movement in the 1970s. Live at Ronnie Scott's demonstrates not only the continuing relevance of the genre, but also Beck's continuing importance to it. Any new release from Beck is a welcome treat - but sixteen live tracks with a killer band? That's a must-have album.
Jeff Beck - Performing This Week... Live at Ronnie Scott's (Eagle Records)
Jeff Beck - Guitar
Tal Wilkenfeld - Bass
Jason Rebello - Keyboards
Vinnie Colaiuta - Drums
1. Beck's Bolero
2. Eternity's Breath
4. Cause We've Ended As Lovers
5. Behind The Veil
6. You Never Know
8. Blast From The East
9. Led Boots
10. Angels (Footsteps)
12. Goodbye Pork Pie Hat / Brush With The Blues
13. Space Boogie
14. Big Block
15. A Day In The Life
16. Where Were You