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Jeff Beck - Blow By Blow CD (album) cover

BLOW BY BLOW

Jeff Beck

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.05 | 166 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
5 stars Lots of jazz guitarists have veered into the world of rock and roll on occasion but the number of "raised on the blues" rockers who have had the boulders to step into the high-falutin' domain of jazz rock/fusion can be counted on one hand. Most of us weren't sure it could be done at all until Tommy Bolin spun everyone's head around with his phenomenal work on Billy Cobham's "Spectrum" in 1973. I have no idea if that had anything to do with Jeff Beck's drastic change of direction but it might have. Or maybe he came to the realization that, singer or no singer, his fans just wanted to hear him let it rip more than anything else. No matter the reason, by hiring producer/wizard George Martin and assembling a basic four-piece combo of extremely talented musicians, Jeff created "Blow By Blow," a recording for all modern guitarists to drool over forevermore.

"You Know What I Mean" is a great mood-setter that lets you know right from the start that you're about to go on one fun, funky ride. The clever melody structure serves up notice that this album isn't going to be just some long, tiresome jam session but, rather, a collection of well thought out and expertly arranged compositions. Next comes an unexpected reggae treatment of the classic Beatles' hit, "She's A Woman," in which Beck whips out the voice tube device, adding a unique twist to the song. For those of us who only knew Jeff by his boisterous, heavy stylings showcased with the Yardbirds and earlier versions of his namesake band, the tasteful restraint he employs here was nothing short of a revelation. (Dang! He's even better than we thought!) This little treat is followed by the complex syncopation that is "Constipated Duck." Here Beck steps out of the spotlight to allow the group's collaborative tightness to be the star of the show. Drummer Richard Bailey and bassist Phil Chenn lay down an incredibly cohesive rhythm track as Max Middleton's flowing clavinet keeps it chugging along.

"Air Blower" and "Scatterbrain" are listed as separate tunes but they work so well in tandem that they might as well be considered one song. Whatever, it's almost nine engaging minutes of exquisite, progressive fusion. It kicks off with a bang, then settles into a driving groove for Beck to sizzle in. His interplay with Bailey's expressive drum accents is nothing short of a thrill ride, then Middleton's smooth Rhodes piano (the stereo bounce is perfect, by the way) relaxes the pace as they transition into a cool 9/8 time signature segment. Here Jeff lets his Les Paul's natural tones provide all the effects needed to keep things from becoming predictable before the band segues seamlessly into the second song. Beck plunges them into a stirring, speedy riff that would challenge even the Mahavishnu Orchestra. Now comes George Martin's contribution as an orchestral score that would make the late, great Nelson Riddle proud begins to swirl around Jeff's blazing solo. Max follows that with an admirable electric piano lead before the song disassembles, leaving Beck's distorted axe to rediscover the theme and pull everyone back into the wild fray. His guitar wails like a banshee as the song fades into the twilight.

JB does more than justice to Stevie Wonder's ballad, "Cause We've Ended as Lovers," he makes it his own. If there's a word to describe Jeff's style that word is expressionistic. You'll never hear more mournful licks than these. His playing is so passionate that, if you just let go and absorb the vibe, you'll feel a tug at your heart as he steadily builds the song to its emotional peak. No one else can produce notes like this. No one. Okay, time to move on to yet another Wonder tune, the funkified "Thelonius" where Beck's reprisal of the voice tube and Middleton's frisky clavinet frolic over an irresistible dance beat. (If I was the director of the USC Trojan marching band I'd have this in the halftime show for sure. It begs for the tuba section to roar.)

The next song is ideal for cruisin' with the top down and the volume cranked. "Freeway Jam" gives you the feeling that you're flying about 90 mph in a Ferrari on the expressway at 4 in the morning and you've got the road to yourself (It's a fantasy. So sue me). Jeff is on fire as he jumps back and forth from the infectious melody line to screaming flashes of brilliance. Max also shines as he bangs out a hot keyboard ride towards the end. The album closes in a very prog mood with the 5/4 lilt of "Diamond Dust." Once again the rhythm section is tighter than an opera diva's girdle and Sir George's discreet but inspired symphonic score creates a hypnotic atmosphere for Beck and Middleton to stretch out inside. Many artists over the years have attempted but few have achieved such a splendid balance of orchestration and fusion. Simply magnificent.

Jeff probably had to wade through a horde of cynics, head-shakers and doomsayers when he delivered this album to his label but he knew that the superb quality of the music would triumph and he was right. There's not a weak track to be found and this landmark recording stands the test of time spectacularly. If you've ever wondered what the fuss is about JB and why so many guitar gods hold him in the utmost esteem, "Blow By Blow" should answer any questions you may have.

Chicapah | 5/5 |

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