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Jeff Beck - Jeff Beck With The Jan Hammer Group: Live CD (album) cover

JEFF BECK WITH THE JAN HAMMER GROUP: LIVE

Jeff Beck

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.34 | 32 ratings

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Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
3 stars The 40+ year distinguished career of Jeff Beck has gone through more hills and valleys than the stock market and to be a loyal fan requires, at times, tolerance and a willingness to look the other way. The same guy who fashioned one of the most overlooked albums in the annals of early hard & heavy rock, "Beck-Ola," and one of the most pristine showcases of guitar virtuosity ever, "Blow by Blow," also put out a few puzzling head-scratchers like the sluggish and somewhat degenerate "Flash." Having said that, one description that has never been applied to Jeff is that of him being timid. He is, in every sense of the word, a courageous explorer. He's never been scared to go against the trendy grain and "Thou shalt not play it safe" is the eleventh commandment God engraved on his personal stone tablets. The fact that he is one of the most influential lead guitarists in history is without dispute and he's one of the rarest of axe men in that his style and approach to the instrument is so unique that no one can copy him. He is truly one of a kind in a world of imitators and his legacy is still inviolate today (as he recently demonstrated on the exquisite "Live at Ronnie Scott's"). He's a fearless, six-string monster. I wish I had but a molecule of his talent coursing through my varicose veins.

But the subject at hand is "Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group - Live" from the Spring of '77 and I'll try to curb my enthusiasm and guitar-god mancrush admiration long enough to be objective. After JB's underwhelming power trio collaboration with Vanilla Fudge alumni Bogert and Appice in '73 fell apart Beck went solo and so impressed the snooty jazz rock/fusion congregation with his work that he toured as co-headliner with the inimitable Mahavishnu Orchestra for a season and more than held his own. It was at that point in his musical evolution that he discovered a kindred unconventional spirit in MO's keyboardist Jan Hammer and they became thick as thieves. Jan's contribution to Jeff's envelope- pushing "Wired" LP in no small part helped to make that disc the bold eye-opener that it is and JB's decision to go ramblin' down the road with Hammer's crackerjack band was a no- brainer. While there's no questioning their individual abilities or the giddy enthusiasm they exude in this concert recording the truth of the matter is that it simply has not aged well and that, unfortunately, is something they had no control over. Therefore it is what it is, a clear but crinkled snapshot in time.

Thankfully they didn't take themselves too seriously. An indication of the levity of the occasion comes at the very start where Jeff & Jan trade silly horn honks as drummer Tony Smith and bassist Fernando Saunders set up the rumbling undercurrent for Max Middleton's catchy, playful "Freeway Jam." It's a fine way to begin a show. It also reveals that Beck was well into his experimentation-with-nifty-gizmos period that I find a bit distracting yet he manages to light the stage on fire with his hot licks despite them. Unlike many of the synthesizer pioneers of that era, Hammer avoids making his machine sound like an expensive kazoo and he delivers a highly entertaining ride. I recall reading a quote around that time that said Jan's aim was to make his synth sound like an electric guitar and that Jeff was just as intent on accomplishing the opposite so that accounts for some of the strange noises they conjured in their quest. It's worth noting they were having a ball in the process.

In the mid 70s disco was conquering the Peruvian marching powder snorting general populace with its mindless pulse and the only alternative many jazz rock/fusion and traditional R&B acts had in order to keep their recording contracts valid was to funk it up. Certainly no respectable artist in the fusion arena would be caught dead dabbling in disco so bringing a funky mentality into their product was the lesser transgression. In some cases the result was interesting, but not often. Czechoslovakian homeboy Hammer's "Earth (Still Our Only Home)" is evidence in the prosecution's favor. The song's strong initial riff is engaging but the faux Ohio Players/Commodores verse and falsetto chorus encapsulates the embarrassing, hopelessly dated flaws to be found in spots on this album. If not for Beck's intense solo the tune would have to shoot itself for not having a reason to exist. Jeff's coy take on Lennon/McCartney's "She's a Woman" with its lead- footed reggae beat was a mild but pleasant surprise on "Blow by Blow" and they perform a decent rendition of it here but Beck's infatuation with the talk box is a momentum-killing digression. I realize that Peter Frampton's cute but squirrelly "do you feel like I do?" catch phrase was all the rage and Jeff just couldn't resist the temptation of patronizing the audience with it but all it does for me is bring back nightmare-inducing memories of seeing the vapid "Frampton Comes Alive" double LP fly off the shelves like free hotcakes while I was temporarily sustaining myself (barely) as a record store grunt/flunky in '76. I shudder at the thought.

Jan's "Full Moon Boogie" suffers much of the same passť fate as the earlier European saltine-funk offering but Steve Kindler's violin adds a welcome tension to the presentation and Smith's exuberant vocal is more digestible than Hammer's so this cut's not nearly as stale and offensive. The best part of the song occurs when Jeff, Jan and Steve duke it out toe-to-toe, exchanging jabs and punches like boxers with nothing left to lose. My favorite Hammer composition is next, the brilliant "Darkness/Earth in Search of a Sun" and it's the apex of the album. I love the opening synthesizer extravaganza and the tune's smooth, walking groove that mesmerizes. Jan smartly veers away from it enough to keep it from becoming monotonous and when Beck jumps in on top with gusto he adds a dimension that was missing in the studio original. Their back-and-forth salvos at the end are thrilling and fun to hear.

Jeff's "Scatterbrain" is one of his classic fusion numbers and the band does this challenging piece full justice. The first movement in 9/8 is extremely tight and though the furious second section with its tricky riff takes off at supersonic speed these pros don't fudge a single note. Beck's lead is fantastic, Kindler (sandwiched between the two giants) reveals his limitations and Hammer's feisty ride turns into an energetic, gnarly percussive race with Tony that'll make your head spin. They close with Jan's memorable "Blue Wind" and he and Jeff take the opportunity to play a "see if you can top THIS!" contest with a predictable outcome. I especially appreciate the brief but nostalgic homage they pay to The Yardbirds' "Train Kept a Rollin'" tossed in for grins but overall nothing spectacular happens.

If anything this album is delightfully unpretentious in that the personnel involved weren't interested in accomplishing anything other than giving the crowd their money's worth and enjoying each other's company on stage while doing so. No props, no light show, no pyrotechnics, no gimmicks, just progressive music played with passion, honesty and top- notch professionalism. Is it often as faded and out of style as stovepipe trousers with two- inch cuffs and Cuban-heeled platform shoes? Without a doubt. However, for the avid follower of either artist, this is a genial excursion into their mutual past that is anything but depressing or boring. 2.9 stars.

Chicapah | 3/5 |

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