Monday, April 12, 2010

Real Guitar Heroes

Two of my absolute favorite guitar players are putting out new CDS this month. Jeff Beck, who seems to be riding yet another career peak, (3rd one by my count) releases Emotion & Commotion and the more understated and lower profile John Mclaughlin gives us To The One. Amazingly neither man is coasting on his sizable reputation, nor has either one stopped searching. Mclaughlin's album is an interesting hybrid of his many styles, although it leans more rock and fusion than he has in some time. His excellent band, The 4th Dimension, gives him the freedom to go whichever way he desires, secure in the knowledge that they can meet his musical needs. To The One most reminded me of his playing of the late 70's around the time of his album Johnny Mclaughlin Electric Guitarist. He is sticking with electric guitar and the fluidity of his runs will knock you out. He has lost no speed whatsoever, he just plays with a slightly more delicate touch then in his Mahavishnu days. In the liner notes Mclaughlin claims the inspiration for this album is Coltrane's "A Love Supreme" and his own spiritual journey since the 1960's. I didn't hear the exact correlation to "A Love Supreme" but, as usual, Mclaughlin's compositional skills and abilities as a soloist are completely transcendent.

With his amazing appearance at Clapton's Crossroads concert and the triumph of his live release Performing This Week: Live At Ronnie Scott's Jeff Beck has come out of his shell as he does every decade or so, to remind the world that he is probably the most innovative and unique rock guitarist living. Without as much as a nod toward fashion or "relevance" he delivers a wildly diverse set of songs that showcase his unpredictable talents. Opening with Jeff Buckley's arrangement of Benjamin Britten's "Corpus Christi Carol" Beck wrings an overwhelming amount of emotion from his guitar for this beautiful melody. He follows up with a tribute to Jan Hammer called "Hammerhead" that showcases his harder, crunchier tendencies. Possibly the highlight of the album is Beck's sumptuous cover of "Over The Rainbow" where he proves once and for all that it's not the number of notes you play, but where they go that matters. The second half of the album features a series of Female guest singers who, for the most part, do pretty well. The question always arises - "why would we want to hear anybody sing when we have Jeff Beck playing?" But, I suppose not everybody likes entirely instrumental albums. Joss Stone's version of "I Put A Spell On You" seemed like the least necessary cut on the album to me, but Imelda May's cover of another Jeff Buckley number "Lilac Wine" is just beautiful, and opera singer Olivia Safe joins Beck for a couple of numbers that are shiver-inducing, especially the album closing "Elegy For Dunkirk" which finds, guitar, orchestra and voice blending to perfect effect. It is doubtful that fans of Beck's most bombastic work will be fully satisfied with this album. After all he includes an orchestra on almost every song, but those who have carefully followed Beck and seen his career rise to the surface again recently will find much to love in this thoughtful and classy album.
Paul Epstein

No comments: