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Jeff Beck – Performing This Week…Live at Ronnie Scott’s [TrackList follows] – Eagle Records/ Universal (2 CDs)

Jeff Beck – Performing This Week…Live at Ronnie Scott’s [TrackList follows] – Eagle Records/ Universal Music, (2 CDs) ER203862, 70:13, 44:09 [6/2/15] ****:

Jeff Beck – guitar; Vinnie Colaiuta – drums; Jason Rebello – keys; Tal Wilkenfeld – bass guitar; Eric Clapton – guitar (CD 2, tracks 3-4); Imogen Heap – vocals (CD 2, tracks 2, 5); Joss Stone – vocals (CD 2, track 1); Big Town Playboys – (CD 2, tracks 6-12))

Jeff Beck’s concert document, Performing This Week…Live at Ronnie Scott’s, finally gets the deluxe CD edition treatment it deserves. This November, 2007 performance at Scott’s London venue was earlier issued on DVD and Blu-ray and as a single CD disc. This time, we get it all on CD. There is the 16-track, 70-minute, all-instrumental first disc which was released in 2008. But now fans get a 44-minute second disc, with 12 selections, featuring guest appearances from singer Joss Stone (one on cut); singer Imogen Heap (on two numbers); and guitarist/singer Eric Clapton on two other pieces. The CD concludes with a short set of vintage rock and roll tunes with Beck and the Big Town Playboys. All of this material is on the Blu-ray edition, but this marks the first time this complete presentation is on CD.

Beck devotees will probably get the most from CD 1, since the focus is on Beck’s guitar mastery. Beck is backed by a strong, wiry band—drummer Vinnie Colaiuta (who has worked with Joni Mitchell, Frank Zappa, Sting, and others); keyboardist Jason Rebello (also Sting, and as sideman to a bevy of jazz luminaries); and young bassist Tal Wilkenfeld (the then-21-year-old came to prominence based on her 2007 Beck gigs and went on to support Herbie Hancock, Jackson Browne, Todd Rundgren and others).

The 16 numbers form a Jeff Beck history. He opens with “Beck’s Bolero,” which dates to 1967 and was a staple of the Jeff Beck Group. It remains an ear-catching example of Beck’s ability to bend different structures (like a bolero) to his own, signature style. From there, Beck extends his range into the jazz-rock realm as he runs through a medley of John McLaughlin and Billy Cobham compositions. There’s a brief foray into the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s “Eternity’s Breath” (from that group’s 1975 LP Visions of the Emerald Beyond), then a potent rendition of Cobham’s “Stratus” (which Cobham initially did on his 1973 album, Spectrum). Beck and company shred on this, and Rebello furnishes a foundation for Beck, rather than trying to usurp him (which was a problem with some of Beck’s previous keyboardists). After that fiery upshot, Beck tones things down with his beautiful adaptation of Stevie Wonder’s “Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers,” a highpoint of Beck’s popular 1975 effort, Blow by Blow. A centerpiece of this is Wilkenfeld’s bass solo. She may be young, but she has the sound and proficiency of someone who’s totally in control of her instrument. Another slow stunner is “Angel (Footsteps),” from Beck’s 1999 CD, Who Else!. Here, Beck hits high notes with the ease only an expert guitarist could provide. Later in the set list, Beck turns up the energy level when he redoes “Scatterbrain,” another jazz-rocker from Blow by Blow, with loads of vim and vigor. Fan fave, the funky “Led Boots” (from Beck’s 1976 album Wired), has perceptive interplay between keyboards and guitar. Another highlight from the Wired era is Beck’s sublime version of Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Pork Pie Hat.” Here, Beck combines the tribute track with “Brush with the Blues,” another cut from the Who Else! session. A nice surprise near the end is a transcendent translation of the Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” which starts in familiar terrain, then is transformed and heads wholly into a Becksian environment.

The second disc dispenses with jazz-rock and instrumentals. It commences with the soulful Joss Stone on the gospel classic “People Get Ready,” by Curtis Mayfield and the Impressions. Beck had a minor hit with this, when Rod Stewart did it on Beck’s 1985 LP, Flash. Stewart’s vocal rendering had a relaxed quality, but Stone supplies a robust and stouter inclination. Electronica chanteuse Imogen Heap contributes to two cuts. Heap is best known for beats-driven music, but here she showcases a sensitive side on “Blanket,” where her vocalizations blend with Beck’s deft guitar licks. She demonstrates her rock and roll chops on a thoroughly updated “Rollin’ and Tumblin’,” which is light years removed from the original by Muddy Waters, or variations by Cream and other acts. Former Cream guitarist Eric Clapton guests on two tracks. Those hoping for a twin-guitar duel may be slightly disappointed. But there’s undeniable magic hearing Clapton and Beck together, who were both members of the Yardbirds, but not at the same time. They trade blues chords on Waters’ “Little Brown Bird” and then go all-out on a blistering take of Willie Dixon’s “You Need Love,” where both guitarists burn the fretboards and Clapton puts some growl into his singing.

The final seven numbers may not entice all Beck enthusiasts. That’s because this focuses on rock and roll revivalists the Big Town Playboys, where Beck generally stays in the background and interposes mostly basic riffs and solos. This material reprises the 1993 Crazy Legs collaboration between Beck and the Big Town Playboys. Songs include Jerry Reed’s “Crazy Legs,” Gene Vincent’s rockabilly boppers “Baby Blue” and “Race with the Devil,” and Carl Perkins’ “Matchbox.” Yardbirds aficionados might enjoy “Train Kept a Rollin’,” which Beck did with the Yardbirds in 1965. However, the Playboys don’t duplicate the Yardbirds’ riveting rave-up, so while this tune rocks solidly, it’s still not as forceful as what the Yardbirds accomplished. Overall, Performing This Week…Live at Ronnie Scott’s is great to listen to and displays Beck’s diverse styles, although some people may not appreciate all of the various aspects, since the assortment of musical genres possibly will not appeal to everyone.

TrackList:

CD 1: Beck’s Bolero; Eternity’s Breath; Stratus; Cause We’ve Ended as Lovers; Behind the Veil; You Never Know; Nadia; Blast from the Past; Led Boots; No Angel (Footsteps); Scatterbrain; Goodbye Pork Pie Hat/Brush with the Blues; Space Boogie; Big Block; A Day in the Life; Where Were You

CD 2: People Get Ready; Blanket; Little Brown Bird; You Need Love; Rollin’ and Tumblin’; Race with the Devil; Crazy Legs; Train Kept a Rollin’; My Baby Left Me; Matchbox; Baby Blue; Honky Tonk

—Doug Simpson

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