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Jeff Beck - Blow By Blow CD (album) cover

BLOW BY BLOW

Jeff Beck

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.08 | 162 ratings

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Kotro
Prog Reviewer
4 stars And now for something completely different

Following the end of another Jeff Beck Group and the apparent lack of success with Beck,Bogert and Appice, the man decided to embark on a solo adventure by jazzing it up a bit. From the Group he eventually kept the company of keyboardist Max Middleton, and I suppose it's no coincidence, since Middleton always seemed the more jazz-oriented of his fellow band members. Giving a hand to Beck on his proper solo debut are also reggae men, ex-Vagabonds Phil Chen on bass and former Bob Marley collaborator Richard Bailey on drums. Last but definitely not least, George Martin (yes, THE George Martin aka the Fifth Beatle) as producer and arranger - a weird recipe indeed, but one which turned out quite successful.

This seemingly musical delicacy is introduced by You Know What I Mean. A funky guitar and Fender Rhodes opening (quite catchy) is shortly heard before we are presented with the fuzz guitar, soon abandoned for the more classical electric guitar sound, leaving all the groove to the Fender Rhodes and the rest of the band. Funky, jazzy and still with a lot of good old rock thrown in between - if this isn't fusion then I don't know what is. The opening track is followed by She's A Woman, a Beatles cover, here delivered with a reggae beat that would pass for a full reggae song if not for Jeff's jazz-rock, very unreggaeish soloing. Amusing, nevertheless. Just like the first track, it simply fades away as the next track, Constipated Duck, is introduced. This one features the greater presence of the keyboards and drumming, and it's a bit more reminiscent of the instrumentals Jeff Beck managed to include in his previous albums with the Jeff Beck Group. Max Middleton's job is especially noteworthy on this, once again, very groovy track (you can see the influence of Stevie Wonder from afar). AIR Blower follows (the name is, apparently, a reference to the George Martin studio where the album was recorded). We hear again the fuzzy sound from the first track, but this time the music is faster (sublime work from the keyboards, bass and drums - hard to believe they're only three members). Jeff Beck rocks out freely with is guitar, getting a chance to display some fine licks. This is the only track penned by all four members of the band, which probably explains why it showcases perfectly both each one's individual qualities, as well as some tight collective playing. The fast paced is abandoned halfway after a Middleton solo in favour of a slower rhythm, where Beck really takes the spotlight. Suddenly we are introduced to a short drum solo that links this song with the next - Scatterbrain. This is probably my favourite track from the album. The rhythm is again fast paced, with the entire band playing lightning speed, accompanied by George Martin's excellent orchestral arrangements. This song is a real musical tornado - you can't help being sucked by its awesome energy. It's like a Hitchcock soundtrack on speed. And what a finale! One could not ask for a better closer to Side One than a track that makes you want to hear more and more.

Cause We've Ended As Lovers opens Side Two, this time a Stevie Wonder original - if you remember well, I hated the Stevie Wonder cover on the Jeff Beck Group album. But this is different: as an instrumental track, without vocals to mess it up, the spotlight is on Jeff Beck's guitar work, which he delivers simply perfectly - for this song is pretty much a six-minute guitar solo, and there is not a dull moment in it. The "lovers" to which the title refers to have got to be Beck and his guitar. Again without space for a break, the song segues into the next track, Thelonius, another Stevie Wonder piece, less emotional and once again more funky than the previous. And also unlike the previous, it doesn't offer much interest. Max Middleton's Freeway Jam is a different deal, however - once more, a pretty much fast moving track featuring some great interplay between the Fender Rhodes and Jeff's guitar, with a special mention to the great drum work. Diamond Dust is another outside contribution, this time from Motown songwriter Brian Holland. The music is quite sweet and delicate, in the vein of Side Two's opener, but this time with the added flavour provided by the beautiful orchestral arrangements by Sir George Martin, which prove to be an excellent company for Beck's electric guitar and Middleton's piano. They are especially strong on this track, rivalling anything he'd done for The Beatles. Throughout its more than eight minutes, we get a chance to hear great solo work from Beck, Middleton and Bailey. It is a shame that such a beautiful track ends so abruptly, leaving this poor listener waiting for something a bit more climatic and rewarding. Oh well.

Apart from the cover She's A Woman, which features vocals delivered through a talk box, the entire album is instrumental, always a hard road for a rock musician to follow - the music alone must always offer enough points of interest, otherwise one might divert his attention to other tasks. Blow by Blow avoids that trap with grace, as if Beck had been doing this for ages. Most of the songs on this album do indeed keep you interested, either by their contagious groove, their sheer power or their enticing beauty. Thelonius is probably the least interesting track, but its only one of nine tracks. The album really displays Jeff's creativity - apart from She's A Woman (on which he certainly put his finger), he is responsible for penning (alone, with Max Middleton or with the entire band) all tracks on the first side. On the other hand, he also appears to feel extremely comfortable playing songs not written by him, as showcased by Side Two, where all the songs are penned by others - this would prove to be a trend in his next album, with mixed results. Because of this versatility, availability, creativity and delivery, Blow by Blow is rightfully considered a true monument is popular instrumental music. It is a successful endeavour by a hard rock artist into the unfamiliar territory of funk and jazz, an experimental journey showcasing so many diverse styles of playing that would alone grant Jeff a place in the pantheon of Guitar Gods.

Kotro | 4/5 |

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