JEFF BECK — There and Back (review)

JEFF BECK — There and Back album cover Album · 1980 · Fusion Buy this album from MMA partners
4.5/5 ·
After recording and extensively touring the excellent "Wired" album Jeff Beck dropped off the face of the earth and more or less sequestered himself on his 70-acre estate outside London to devote his time to restoring his beloved classic cars. In fact, it was four very long years before he would emerge to make another LP but the wait turned out to be worth it. "There and Back" in many ways is even better than "Wired" and the extended vacation he took didn't seem to diminish his abilities in the least. This time around he got Ken Scott to co-produce and enlisted the help of a different crew of talented professionals to support him and provide new jazz/rock fusion material. Jan Hammer still has a substantial role here but he's not the dominant force that he was on previous projects. "Star Cycle" starts with some swirling, cosmic synthesizers and Hammer, in his percussionist persona, combines real and electronic drums for the rhythm track. (Programmed drums were just starting to fascinate musicians about that time so it's not surprising that they were experimenting with them on this song.) Jeff slays you with a hellacious guitar solo to prove that his self-imposed sabbatical didn't cause him to lose a step. The catchy melody will roll around in your head for a while, too. Both virtuosos go at each other towards the end but I have to say that Jan's lively synthesizer playing, as good as it is, has difficulty keeping up with the blazing Beck here. Next Hammer contributes "Too Much to Lose," featuring another memorable melody line performed by Jeff over Jan's ethereal keyboards and surprisingly authentic bass lines. Simon Phillips supplies an irresistible groove as Beck launches into a slinky guitar ride overhead. It's a very cool tune but at 2:57 it's over before you know it.

The last of Hammer's participation is on his "You Never Know," a not-so-subtle disco dance song. His synthesizer lead is spectacular and Jeff soars at the end but overall the tune is way too busy and starts to get on your nerves long before it's over. I think it was time for Jan to move on and evidently so did Beck because, from here on out, Tony Hymas takes over from Hammer. Up next is the charismatic Hymas/Phillips number "The Pump" that always makes me visualize the shiny new silver Porsche slowly backing out of the garage in the movie "Risky Business" (and, therefore, the sexy Rebecca De Mornay but that's a whole 'nother subject. Yowza!). What a perfect song for the moment. The music is sleek, elegant and yet exudes tremendous kinetic power as Tony layers cavernous, deep keyboard elements to create space for Jeff to stretch out and do what he does better than most. Play guitar.

JB's backing band for the remainder of the album consists of Phillips, Hymas and bassist Mo Foster and they rival any group Beck has ever assembled. The Latin-flavored "El Becko" starts with a fantastic piano flourish from Tony and then they all fall into a hard rocking tempo where Jeff uses the slide to great effect. Hymas' tasteful piano work really adds an energized dimension to the sound and Beck's lead at the end is as fierce as a wild animal in pursuit of its prey. After that firestorm the slower "The Golden Road" is a welcome change of pace. Tony delivers a soulful lead break on the synthesizer before some great dynamics come along in the arrangement to keep things interesting. Jeff's emotional solo is breath-taking.

The turbocharged "Space Boogie" follows and it's a Katy bar the door barnburner as Simon Phillips does his best Billy Cobham imitation and pile drives this song from beginning to end. He's flat-out amazing on this cut. Hymas' piano ride is hot, hot, hot but Beck's guitar is literally smokin' like a chimney. When JB plays with this much passion and enthusiasm no one can touch him. He's in a league of his own. If you ever need a jumpstart to your day this is the tune to cue up. The album comes to a close with the fitting "The Final Peace" which is the most adventurous song here. Tony sets a beautiful mood and atmosphere, allowing Jeff to display his amazing technique as he seems to caress the guitar neck, creating heavenly notes and inflections. There are no drums and no discernable melody as such, just a free-form composition rising out of two extraordinary musicians inspired by the power of music.

Sometimes when an artist's fans have to wait several years for new material the result can be disappointing but this is one album that isn't. JB marches to the beat of a different drum, that's for sure, but his unique guitar stylings have never been more striking than they are on this album. If not for the cluttered and overly noisy "You Never Know" this would be a 5-star masterpiece. As it is, it still rates very high on my pleasure scale.

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