These reviews are provided to help maintain a connection with various genres of popular music extending from the 1940’s through to present time.
This is album review number 219 in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl LP’s and Cd’s, in my collection.
The series is called “Cream of The Crate” and each review represents an album from my collection that I believe is of significant musical value, either because of it’s rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of music or because there is something unique about the group or the music.
Links to the previous 200+ reviews can be found at the bottom of this review.
Although Jeff Beck’s career can be traced back to 1962, it was when he joined the Yardbirds in 1965, that he started to find he was becoming a house-hold name, but more importantly to him, he was being seriously measured up against two guitar greats, Eric Clapton and Jimmy Page – both of whom also largely found their feet in the Yardbirds.
After a playing with the Yardbirds for around 20 months, his bad temper and his frustrating over-attention to detail along with his inconsistency in regard to making gigs, created a situation resulting in him being fired.
He then formed the Jeff Beck group with Rod Stewart on vocals and the group had varying degrees of success and may have ended up with Pink Floyd, after the departure of Syd Barrett, but no one in the Floyd had the nerve to ask him.
The Jeff Beck group broke up and he played for a short time with bassist Tim Bogert and drummer Carmine Appice, but that was short lived when Beck fractured his skull in a car accident, bringing that to an end.
He continued to play with various artists and in and out of bands until 1975 when he decided to release his first solo album – the album under review; Blow By Blow.
The original pressing was on Epic with the catalogue number ELPS 3727.
The album has 9 tracks, five on side 1 and 4 on side 2.
Beck’s move toward a more Jazz oriented style of playing had slowly evolved during the seventies, and while it lost him fans of the style he played in the Yardbirds, it gained him a new legion of fans.
Certainly the timing was right with the development of Jazz fusion and Jazz funk gaining more and more popularity.
Blow by Blow was variously described as “instrumental rock” (a poor description indeed), through to the mouthful – “Jazz Rock/
His music and indeed his career was at a crossroads and he wisely decided to challenge his ever-evolving music style by taking a right hand turn into the unexplored terrain of instrumental jazz fusion.
- Jeff Beck – guitars
- Max Middleton – keyboards
- Phil Chen – bass
- Richard Bailey – drums, percussion
- Stevie Wonder – uncredited clavinet on “Thelonius”
- George Martin – production, orchestral arrangement
- Denim Bridges – engineering
So to the tracks on this album.
If you haven’t sussed it out, this is a purely instrumental album. My ex-musical partner of some forty years often maintained that vocals simple distracted from the music. I don’t fully subscribe to this philosophy, but certainly, it forces us to focus solely on the artists instrumental ability.
- You Know What I Mean
- She’s A Woman
- Constipated Duck
- AIR Blower [Often incorrectly listed as Air Blower)
- Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers
- Freeway Jam
- Diamond Dust
I’ll kick off with Track 1 – You Know What I Mean. the first track on any album really is the “calling card/ the introduction” to that album.
The first thing you note, is the economy of Beck’s playing. There isn’t a wasted or superfluous note. It is funk with a power injected jazz root.
A note about the bass and drums – they are perfectly in synch and provide a solid backing that allows Beck to to front the piece with excellent guitar lines.
A great first up track.
You Know What I Mean
After listening through to the entire album, in fact it had been a long time since I had played it, I just had to come back to Track 2 – She’s A Woman.
Yup, it is the Lennon/McCartney composition, and actually, we don’t miss the words. The guitar mimics the vocal lines quite cleverly and, it really is the track that stands out thematically, from the rest of the album.
I love the “reggae” feel behind it – in fact it is a fusion between funk, jazz and reggae. The use of the “talkbox“, as popularised earlier on by Peter Frampton, does add an interesting dimension to the piece.
But we need to move past or through such “gimmicks” to discover some fine fingering as Beck takes the piece and successfully adapts it to something more than She’s A Woman as we remember through the Beatles.
She’s A Woman
At times it seems like Beck is playing with a laser-driven guitar. It just cuts through the piece, yet not in a harsh way, but in a melodic, very much emotive way. Special mention to Max Middleton for his keyboard playing.
The track might just be subtitles – “Bliss”.
Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers
Track 2 – Thelonius is not a track that I found a sympathetic ear for, although I should point out that it is believed the Stevie Wonder actually played keyboards, in an uncredited performance.
Track 3 is Freeway Jam – a good piece of Jazz fusion and the bass playing is very good and works in perfectly with the drums to provide a foundation for Jeff to go nuts on.
Track 4 – Diamond Dust. This is diamond by name and by nature.
The track kicks off with keyboards, slowly panned left to right and back and forth. Then Beck and his guitar come into play as the tempo is upped.
The string arrangement is a credit to the class and skill of George Martin. Becks guitar work is like a polished gem, rather than a gem being polished. It is calm, measured, complete and not in the least frantic.
What an array of chords – for those who delight in jazz guitar :
Dm11 - Dm11 - Dm7M9 Fm11 - Bbm11 - Ab/Gb - Ebm11 Abm11 - Gb/E - B7M/5
GbM9/Bb - GbM9+6 - Fm11 Cm11 - BbM9+6 - G/A
Ethereal Jazz! That’s the term that came to mind.
Mind you, I am also adding atmospheric and sensual to my description. This was the perfect track to finish with and this time, a special mention to
the drumming of Phil Chen.
So, where are we?
I’m not a big Jeff Beck fan, but I am pleased to have this album in my collection. It does showcase some of the best playing by Beck, and it has stood the test of time.
The fact that George Martin had his experience and skills involved adds to the overall quality of the presentations.
There is no denying that this was a fantastic period for him – in many ways a breakout year and it is hard to deny his accomplishment as an instrumentalist.
The album is focussed on the many forms of jazz-fusion, yet it also provides the listener with some stark differences that means, you don’t just get seduced into ongoing “same style”, where you just relax with familiarity.
It is considered one of his best releases among fans and colleagues and it is also, easy to see why this is the case.
My original copy plays well and has survived the ravages of time, and there are copies available on Discogs.
However, if you are going to purchase either as a replacement for an existing copy, or as a first time purchase, i would urge you to seek out the more recently released 200gm version.
I have managed to track down some love clips of tracks from the album, even though they may not be from the exact period of the albums release.
She’s A Woman
Previous Cream of The Crate Albums:
To view/listen the first 50 vinyl album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen the first 50 Cd album reviews just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 101 – 150 just click the image below –
To view/listen album reviews 151 – 200 just click the image below –
Click to open the following reviews covering #’s 201 onward.