Blow By Blow

Jeff Beck

Epic Records, 1975

REVIEW BY: Bruce Rusk


Of the three virtuoso guitarists that emerged from the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck is perhaps the one who took the most chances and explored the most diverse styles.

After the Yardbirds and two albums with Rod Stewart fronting The Jeff Beck Group, Stewart departed and Beck took the band in a jazzier direction. Two more JBG albums followed, then Beck tossed the lot, retaining only journeyman JBG keyboard player Max Middleton for his first true solo gig and completely instrumental album, Blow By Blow.

BBB sounds little like Beck's previous work and nothing like his earlier blues-based stuff. Instead Beck explores (some say invented) the oft-maligned fusion genre, mashing up rock with jazz into a melodic, groove-infused hybrid of the two styles. Beck's heavy blues and rock roots are the key to the success of this album, regarded by his faithful (along with its '76 follow up my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Wired) as his best work.

His gifted playing allows for the technical intricacies required to pull of the more instrumentally complex jazz-based melodies, while his rock and roll background provides soul and depth, preventing the whole affair from becoming technically brilliant but soulless. Equal credit goes to Middleton’s keys. Both players are virtuosos, and the interchange between them is very organic and natural.

Beck manages to fill these tracks with so many diverse styles that it almost defies classification; though jazz is always the foundation of these compositions, even on tracks like “You Know What I Mean” and “Constipated Duck” that scream funk, the music is driven by the flawless rhythms laid down by bassist Phil Chen and drummer Richard Bailey. Beck and Middleton's interplay comes to the forefront on “Airblower” as they move from a synchronized driving lead to a diminishing coda, with Middleton’s lazy Rhodes piano providing the backdrop for sighing, moaning exclamations from Beck. Similar interplay fuels the frenetic “Scatterbrain” and the classic “Freeway Jam,” two songs that feature Beck’s most powerful soloing on this disc.

One of the true gems on the disc is the instrumental reworking of the Lennon/McCartney classic “She’s A Woman." Beck dissects the song, chopping up then three primary melodic themes and scrambling them up, icing the cake with a combination of talkbox and wah pedal to “sing” along to.

Despite some very diverse tempos and instrumentation, and Beck’s seemingly infinite supply of unique sonic voices, the whole album has a strong cohesion and flows effortlessly from track to track. Blow by Blow is a brilliant album that would cement Beck's status as a guitar god and influence generations of future musicians, as well as possibly being the finest completely instrumental rock album ever recorded.

Rating: A

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