Jeff Beck: Emotion & Commotion

RIYL: The Jeff Beck Group, Robert Fripp, Joe Satriani

Emotion & Commotion is a misleading title. One would assume with “Commotion” in the title, Beck would be ripping and shredding away throughout this 10-track recording. Instead, the enigmatic and talented Beck puts together a record of beauty and subtlety. He is reserved, melodic and letting the subtleties and nuances of his playing center the record. There is beauty throughout, like “Corpus Cristi Carol,” a Middle English Hymn which was re-interpreted by Jeff Buckley in 1994. Beck, inspired by Buckley, starts the record with his guitar accompanied quietly by an orchestra. The piece is two minutes and 40 seconds of peace and sadness. Irish Singer Imelda May is featured on another song Buckley recorded, “Lilac Wine,” and like “Carol” this song features a beautifully understated orchestra in the background and Beck’s emotive and deliberate playing.

Joss Stone contributes her ridiculously talented vocals to two tracks including a riveting reading of the classic, “I Put a Spell on You.” I am convinced she could sing the menu from a Chinese restaurant and make it intense and enjoyable. While Stone vamps it up, Beck and the rest of the folks play it straight to deliver a terrific new interpretation of a classic. The record never really comes close to chaos. It features clean production – every note, every instrument has its own space to breathe. The liner notes are good, with Beck sharing his motivations for picking the tracks. It has a very relaxing and laid back tone consistently demonstrating that less is more. Again, Beck puts something out that you might not have expected. Clapton is the popular guitarist, consistently producing music that sells by melding his influences into the pop structure. Beck never quite had a consistent vision or production schedule. Beck is a brilliant guitarist who, when he does work, usually makes something you wouldn’t expect. Emotion & Commotion might be mislabeled, but it is an excellent addition to the Beck catalog. (Atco 2010)

Jeff Beck on MySpace


Herbie Hancock: The Imagine Project

RIYL: Santana’s Shaman and Supernatural, Anoushka  Shankar’s Breathing Underwater,  WOMAD label artists

On the surface, one might conclude that Herbie Hancock’s current release, The Imaging Project, is a Johnny-come-lately effort that builds on the model Carlos Santana rode to great success on Supernatural and Shaman.  That is to say, call in a diverse group of popular artists and have them record songs that infuse their styles with the dominant musical character of bandleader. Hancock and company certainly attempt that, but Mr. Hancock has grander designs other than just creating a hit record.  The Imagine Project is, according to Hancock, part of a global outreach strategy featuring musicians from various corners of the world to foster a kind of globalization that emphasizes mutual respect rather than a top-down cultural dominance emanating from U.S. to the rest of the world.  Does Hancock succeed in his ambitions?  At times he does, but at other times the record sounds like bland smooth jazz that never rises above level of innocuous background music for worker bees in office buildings.

The most interesting tracks (and ones that reach Hancock’s ambitions on this album) are tucked in the middle and end of the CD.  “The Song Goes On” featuring Chaka Khan and Wayne Shorter – and some blistering sitar playing by Anoushka Shankar – demonstrates what I think Hancock had in mind for this album (the same goes for “Tempo De Amor,” “La Tierra,” and “Tamatant Tilay/Exodus”). Alas, there are some real duds that take away from the potential grandness of the project.  “Tomorrow Never Knows” featuring Dave Matthews is as pointless of a cover as it is boring. “Imagine” gets bogged down in pomposity and relegates Jeff Beck to playing a solo that could have been done by any good musician with about a year’s worth of guitar lessons.  And only Pink saves “Don’t Give Up” from becoming a milquetoast cover of the Peter Gabriel/Kate Bush original.

The Imagine Project is not a horrible record by any stretch, but it continually falls short on both fusing various musical styles and finding new wine from the old wineskins of classic songs. However, when it shines (as it does at times), the music does transcend geographic boarders to create a fusion that lives up to Hancock’s stated goal for this record.  (Hancock Records 2010)

Herbie Hancock’s website
Click to buy The Imagine Project from Amazon


Peter Frampton: Thank You Mr. Churchill

RIYL: Rainbow, Jeff Beck, Bad Company

It’s easy to judge anything Peter Frampton releases based on his body of work, which includes Frampton Comes Alive, arguably one of the greatest live albums in rock history. So we almost have to cut him a bit of slack if he’s lost a bit of that powerful rock voice and some of his ability to write good hooks. But as he shows on his latest, Thank You Mr. Churchill, Frampton can still play the guitar like a madman; and as he was reunited with producer/engineer Chris Kimsey (who produced Frampton’s 1972 solo debut), he can still deliver epic classic rock songs with guitar solos that linger like they did in the ‘70s. It’s also what Frampton calls an autobiographical record, as the title stems from him thanking Winston Churchill for bringing his dad back safely from World War II and therefore giving Frampton a life. Rockers like “Solution” and the slow burning “Asleep at the Wheel” are the best retro sounding numbers, but Frampton also shines on the powerful instrumental, “Suite Liberte,” and the funky “Restraint.” Oh, and don’t miss the old style fuzz box tone Frampton uses on “Invisible Man,” which evokes memories of Black Sabbath’s Paranoid album. On “Restraint” and a few other tracks, Frampton touches on world politics a bit (“Restraint” is about the Wall Street bailout), but admittedly his strength is in making his guitar scream, and the ability to make the classic rock meter needle jump like crazy. For the most part, Peter Frampton does just that, yet again. (New Door 2010)

Peter Frampton MySpace Page


Clapton and Beck to play London next year

Beck Clapton

Wow, I get to mention Jeff Beck again. The old dudes of rock are really making a statement this year, aren’t they? The inventive guitarists — who are popular the world over — both got their start with the Yardbirds in the ’60s. Though they never actually played together in the band, it was Jeff Beck that Eric Clapton recommended as a replacement after he quit the Yardbirds to join Jon Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. The two had such a good time playing together in Japan earlier this year that they’re going to reconvene for a London gig in 2010.

The one-off show at London’s O2 Arena on February 13, 2010 will be the second time the guitar legends have played together in recent times.

Jeff Beck speaking about their live collaboration, says: “Eric and I played together in Japan earlier this year and had a blast. Since then we have been in regular contact and talked about doing a similar show for our fans.”

“I’ve always considered Jeff Beck to be one of the finest guitar players around. He’s a friend, a great guy, and a truly gifted musician. We had such a fun time in Japan that it seemed natural to play together again,” responds Eric Clapton.

Each musician will play a set of their own music before pairing up to finish the show. This is the concert I would have attended if I wasn’t already flying to New York to see Pavement. Wait, never mind. This show is in England. Who can afford to fly there?


Slash prepares new album, recruits entire music industry


Renowned guitarist Slash has been preparing his very first solo album since 2007. The former Guns ‘N’ Roses and current Velvet Revolver member plans to release the record, Slash and Friends, sometime in 2010. The list of these “friends” is very lengthy. Those announced so far include Flea, Ozzy Osbourne, M. Shadows, Alice Cooper, Chris Cornell, Ron Wood, Iggy Pop, Fergie, and Adam Levine. Now Dave Grohl and Duff McKagan have even entered the fold. Josh Freeze will drum and Chris Chaney will play bass on the majority of the album.

“Doing a track for my record with Dave Grohl on drums & Duff on bass tonight, it promises to be killer,” Slash tweeted about the studio session before returning the 140-character Website to report “Great jamming w/Duff & Grohl tonight, the track is a killer instrumental, very heavy.”

With this effort, Slash is slowly becoming our generation’s Jeff Beck, recruiting established musicians to enhance his guitar work. For example, The Jeff Beck Group’s 1969 album Beck-Ola featured vocalist Rod Stewart and Ron Wood (again!) on guitars. The Jeff Beck Group would evolve over the years until Beck completely broke out on his own, recording whatever the hell he wanted to at the time.

The thing is, with these albums, the music rarely sounds cohesive. Slash has created a definitive guitar sound, but mixed with these various vocalists and eccentric musicians, I think the record is going to be all over the place. Oh well, I’m sure a few tracks will rip!