Famous Last Notes
A stunning musical epitaph from jazz guitar geniusCertainly, “all things must pass,” as George Harrison said. “None of life’s strings can last.” And so it was back in 2008 that the brilliant guitarist Joe Beck strummed his last chords. His death at the age of 63 left a gaping hole in the world of jazz guitar, but also left an immense legacy. For that, at the very least, we are thankful.
Joe also left us this album, Get Me Joe Beck, by Joe Beck Trio, Recorded Live at Anna’s Jazz Island in Berkeley, California. Fans of Beck and great guitar are so lucky to have this; it’s an incredible post-script to a career that spanned decade after productive decade, and saw him accompany so many of the genre’s major stars.
But Get Me is more than just another Beck recording. It’s as if he knew he wouldn’t get too many more chances, and he had it in his mind that, perhaps, this time he’d really show everyone what he was all about. In the words of Neal Weiss, president of the Whaling City Sound label that released six CDs featuring Beck, it showcased the musician “playing for himself … a master artist plying his craft at the highest level and leaving it out there to be appreciated for what it is.”
And it is really something. Joined by the “sick” (Joe’s own words on the CD) rhythm section of Peter Barshay on bass and Dave Rokeach on drums, Beck is phenomenal. With simply the bass and drums behind him, he feels at liberty to explore different ideas, coursing across a vast spectrum of exhilarating passages, chordal explorations and single note journeys. Those who knew him as a talented chordal player, and he was, will enjoy Beck’s creative soloing, which is by turns gorgeous, bluesy, experimental, and evocative. It is unnecessary, really, to name them by song. Beck is masterful from the opening of this recording (“Stella By Starlight”) to the very end (“Georgia On My Mind.”) There are no exceptions.
The live recording, done in Berkeley, was beautifully captured by Adrian Wong and mixed and mastered by Dan Feiszli. It is punctuated by a few spoken word passages that give us some idea of Beck’s wry humor and his concise patter, the stuff that contributed to him being such a talented performer. In the words of John Abercrombie, a contributor to the liner notes and Joe’s good friend, “Joe Beck was, is, and will always be one of the greatest musicians to ever play this damned instrument called the guitar.” Not exactly faint praise from a fellow master, and words for us all to remember as we listen to the lovely last recordings of the legendary Joe Beck.
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