|Beck proved that a guitar could replace vocals, and project just as much expression, soul, feeling and depth to carry an album. In fact, it melded more easily and distracted less from the other instrumentalists and guitar rhythm textures.|
In the mid-70's Jeff Beck formed a band with some premier sidemen and invented a genre and a blueprint for hundreds of guitar-gods. An all instrumental, guitar-driven, jazz-rock fusion project. Over the next several years he produced some of the most influential and innovative music, commercially successful and critically acclaimed, and all without the focus of pop music, a vocal track. His guitar was the lead voice, supported by virtuoso musicians playing rocking yet elegant arrangements of great compositions. Here's a rundown of the first and probably best known 3 of those albums.
Featuring Max Middleton, Jan Hammer, Richard Bailey, Wilbur Bascomb & Narada Michael Walden.
Where Blow By Blow had been very much an ensemble album, Beck's next release, Wired, was a more personal and introspective album. Instead of extended jamming and vamping on funk beats, Wired was more melodic and the lead lines were more pronounced and dominant, with less rambling soloing. The compositions were tighter and more focused. Narada Michael Walden's beautiful compositions were perfect vehicles for Beck's emotional phrasing and feel. Jan Hammer contributioned the most memorable tune, the soaring Blue Wind. A bluesy rendition of Charlie Mingus' jazz standard Goodbye Pork Pie Hat showcased Beck's grasp of dynamics and pacing. On songs like GPPH and Sophie Beck showed incredible touch and feel, sometimes barely touching the strings, then squeezing searing bends and squeals out of his strat. Originally released in May, 1976, Wired also went platinum and spent 25 weeks on Billboard's album chart, peaking at number 16.
with Jan Hammer, Tony Smith, Fernando Saunders, & Steve Kindler
Backed by Jan Hammer's band of hotshot session wizards, Beck only had to stand up and play while behind him the tight and funky rhythm section pulsed out powerhouse renditions of new original tunes and highlights from the two previous albums on 1977's Jeff Beck with the Jan Hammer Group Live. The album bristles with peaks, like Steve Kindler's jazz violin on Scatterbrain, doubling Beck's blistering guitar line, and the screaming solos and jam sections, between the valleys of ambiant moody keyboard pieces like Darkness and Earth (Still Our Only Home), and the swampy funk of Full Moon Boogie. Beck mostly sticks to playing "colors" and soloing over the band's arrangements, but it works beautifully. While impressive and spirited, without the fire of his guitar the songs and playing of the sidemen would be without the focus and depth Beck provides. Only a band as competent and talented as Hammer's could provide the support to Beck's loose and rangy style. A perfect balance, although their are a few uncomfortable vocal moments that make you wish he had stuck to his all instrumental format. Perhaps Beck felt an all-instrumental show wouldn't hold the crowd's interest. Whatever the reason, they provide the only weak point to the entire album, which succeeds on every other level, Hammers multi-layered keyboards more than filling out and filling in for Walden and Martin's string arrangements.