Various Artists

Freeway Jam: To Beck and Back

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An all-star cast of jazz, blues, and fusion guitarists gives Jeff Beck's catalog a whirl in this hourlong instrumental tribute to one of the U.K.'s finest six-stringers. The back line of drummers Simon Phillips and Vinnie Colaiuta, bassist Stu Hamm, keyboardist Mitchel Forman, and rhythm guitarist/producer Jeff Richman (who also solos on "El Becko") provides unifying glue to the proceedings. Not surprisingly, the ten-title track list concentrates on Beck's generally lyric-free fusion work that started with 1975's Blow by Blow. But an occasional foray into older material (John Scofield's drastically rearranged Yardbirds-era "Over Under Sideways Down" and Eric Johnson's take on "Beck's Bolero") gives it a bit of variety. Still, this is clearly geared toward shredders and readers of Guitar One magazine, who will likely eat up the finger speed and sound these acts are known for. The guitar shenanigans are impressive, although it's unlikely a novice would be able to tell contributors apart without a track list. But there is a somewhat chilly, almost soulless feel to much of this. Many artists, although playing in top form, seem to be disconnected from the passion and fire that made the originals so powerful. According to the notes, some of the guitarists overdubbed their solos after the rhythm section laid down its parts, which would account for the lack of cohesion between the band and soloist. This surely isn't a deal-breaker for the audience the disc is geared to, but as usual with these projects, the covers generally pale next to their predecessors. Additionally, only Walter Trout ("Brush with the Blues") and Warren Haynes ("The Pump") emerge from a blues background as Beck did (the others come from jazz or rock), and that adds to the slightly sterile performances that highlight form over heart. Nevertheless, this is hit more than miss, and for guitar technicians and students, just hearing the likes of Steve Morse, Eric Johnson, Mike Stern, and Greg Howe tear into Beck's classic tunes is enough to make even the most jaded player salivate.

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