October  2002

Jeff Beck - Blow by Blow
Sony/Epic ES 85440
Released: 2002

by John Potis

Musical Performance ****1/2
Recording Quality ****1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****1/2

[Reviewed on SACD)One rap on SACD is that it’s just another way for the record companies to get us to buy yet more copies of our favorite recordings. There may well be some merit to this, but, on the other hand, the record companies’ slow trickle of SACD reissues may well provide us the incentive or opportunity to revisit some of the titles we originally passed over. For me, the 2001 SACD re-release of Jeff Beck’s 1975 Blow by Blow is a perfect example.

Blow by Blow seemed like such a contrary record when it was released. Stylistically, we fans expected greater evidence of the blues that influenced many early rock guitarists -- and even Beck's early work -- but Blow by Blow was jazz through and through. Looking back, the disc truly stands the test of time, even more than the then-contemporary releases of my favorite jazz guitarist of that era, Larry Carlton. Whether this is due to this disc's superior remastering or its simply because it's yet another timeless George Martin production, I’m not entirely certain. Somehow, I feel as though the pairing of the Max Middleton’s Fender Rhodes piano and Beck’s distorted Les Paul on "Air Blower" should sound more passť than it does, although Martin’s arrangement of the orchestral underpinning for "Scatterbrain" with its frenzied electronic scales ensured that it survived all those years as well or better than most music of the era. "Cause We’ve Ended As Lovers" is probably my favorite cut, since Beck temporarily eschews harried scales to wring some real emotion from his Les Paul -- proving one more time that mastery of the guitar requires more than just speed.

Twenty-seven years after the fact, Blow by Blow probably sounds better than ever. True, the original LP may have sounded phenomenal -- not that my turntable of that era was capable of extracting such sonic bliss from any record. No, for sure, even today’s least expensive SACD players will give a sonic rendition that most of us couldn't have even conceived of back then. Blow by Blow is wonderfully served by its new high-definition format. Shimmering cymbals and blistering bass lines support Beck’s well-captured guitar. A multitracked recording to be sure, Blow by Blow still throws a very well-defined soundstage with surprising depth and outrageous instrumental outlines. A few blemishes native to the original recording, most prominently a spotty job of reproducing the drum kit, prevent me from scoring the sound quality as a "5." However, for the most part sound quality is excellent.

The SACD also includes a multichannel mix and you will probably either love it or hate it, depending on how you feel about the whole issue of surround sound for music. Since there was no real ambience captured during the original sessions for the SACD to re-create, the surround channels are used to relocate and distribute musicians around the room. Oddly enough, I didn’t hate this aspect of the SACD as much as I usually do. Instruments sound focused and sharp no matter where in the room they originated, and instrumental outlines are cleanly portrayed, without the vagueness so often present on DTS music recordings, for example.

The good news is that no matter which format you prefer, this disc has it all (as long as it’s not Red Book CD -- it's not a hybrid disc). With excellent fundamental sound quality supporting surprisingly ageless electric guitar based jazz, this second (third?) time around effort on Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow is definitely worth checking out, even if for the first time.