Jeff Beck’s ‘Emotion & Commotion’ is like great art

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Wow! Throw music labels and preconceived notions out the window. Forget about Jeff Beck’s reputation and resume going back to his Yardbird days.

Jazz, metal, soul, orchestral, New Age. Words fail to define or describe what Beck has created in “Emotion & Commotion.” This is art by one of the all-time greatest guitarists. It isn’t meant to be analyzed. It’s meant to evoke, to inspire, to create awe and wonder. It just is.

Emotion & Commotion” was released a few weeks ago on Deuce Music, Ltd. as Beck’s first solo album since 2003’s “Jeff.”

For me, it’s his best work since his 1976 jazz-fusion album “Wired.”

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From the CD’s first ethereal track, “Corpus Christi Carol,” written by Benjamin Britten, Beck blurs the lines between guitar and voice. Clear, pure, sustained notes paint tranquility onto an orchestral background.

Then WHAM! The whammy bar kicks into “Hammerhead” before you’ve had a chance to wake from your reverie. For more than four minutes, Beck and co-writer Jason Robello manage to combine metal with jazz fusion into a spatter of raw energy. Just when you think your head’s going to explode, the third track, “Never Alone,” by Robello, eases you into a cool jazz mood with an underlying Bossa Nova rhythm.

The focal point of the CD is the next track, “Over The Rainbow,” by Harold Arlen and E.Y. Harburg. Yes, the same Judy Garland song that makes you happy to feel sad, content to want something else. No matter how many people have covered this song, no one can sing as pitifully beautiful as Garland. Beck writes that Garland’s unsteady vibrato inspired his version. His guitar perhaps surpasses Garland in creating that woebegone innocence.

Another cover on the CD is Screamin’ Jay Hawkin’s 1956 blues classic “I Put A Spell on You.” Nothing complicated. Just Beck wailing on his guitar. Oh yeah, and Joss Stone wailing out incredible vocals. If you haven’t heard this 23-year-old white girl from England who could give the late great Koko Taylor some competition, check out her 2003 album “The Soul Sessions.”

A departure from his primarily instrumental repertoire, “Emotion & Commotion” brings in amazing female vocalists like R&B artist Stone on a couple of tracks, velvety smooth jazz vocalist Imelda Ray on James Shelton’s 1949 “Lilac Wine” and opera soprano Olivia Safe on a couple of tracks, most impressively on “Elegy For Dunkirk.”

Safe’s voice sounds as if it comes from heaven. It lives above the Earth and beyond time. Beck’s guitar soars with her. At times, it’s hard to distinguish between the two. And not that you need to. To hear “Elegy For Dunkirk” is to stop thinking. There are no lyrics to understand. It’s just Beck’s guitar, Safe’s voice and a subtle orchestral arrangement that gives melodic voice to everything you could feel but never put into words. Somehow the world makes complete and awesome sense in its anguish and grace.

It’s best not to say too much more about “Emotion & Commotion.” Like all great art, it will say what it will to the beholder.

Emily Tuttle is a freelance writer living in Minot.

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