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Crate Digger’s Gold: Joe Beck – Beck

February 17, 2014

joe beck

I bought this LP for four reasons (in order of importance):

  • The Mati Klarwein cover art (which I had never seen before, but instantly recognized as Mati Klarwein)
  • The fact that it was on the Kudu/CTI label
  • I was vaguely familiar with Joe Beck as Miles Davis’ failed first attempt at hiring an electric guitar player
  • It had a cool line up: David Sanborn (sax), Don Grolnick (keys), Will Lee (bass), Chris Parker (drums) and Steve Kahn (guitar)

Double bonus – it is a great LP.  This is quality smooth jazz.  If you didn’t know, you would think this is a David Sanborn album.  His sax overshadows the proceedings.  This was David Sanborn before he was David Sanborn.  His horn is instantly recognizable to smooth jazz fans and to fans of early Saturday Night Live (listen to Sanborn’s solos all over this album and you will know what I mean).

According to smooth jazz is :

“Smooth Jazz is an outgrowth of fusion, one that emphasizes its polished side. Generally, smooth jazz relies on rhythms and grooves instead of improvisation. There are layers of synthesizers, lite-funk rhythms, lite-funk bass, elastic guitars, and either trumpets, alto, or soprano saxophones. The music isn’t cerebral, like hard bop, nor is it gritty and funky like soul-jazz or groove — it is unobtrusive, slick, and highly polished, where the overall sound matters more than the individual parts.”

Not a very flattering definition, but fair.  Joe Beck’s Beck manages to sound great, despite being smooth jazz.  Why?  I really don’t know.  But every genre has great music and every genre has crap music.  Great music defies labels, especially unflattering labels.  Perhaps this is a great smooth jazz album because it was one of the cornerstones of the genre.  Or maybe it is more soul jazz than smooth jazz. Or maybe because David Sanborn has more genuine personality in his playing than any of his peers.  Or it could be the just plain great playing by an ensemble of studio/session rats on a busman’s holiday.   I hate most smooth jazz as much as the next guy, but there are some masterpieces of the genre and I stumbled on one because of the cover art.  Do judge a book by its cover – if it is a great cover!

For a little taste check out the You Tube below of the opening cut “Cactus.”  Note the not so cool cover art which was from an now out of print reissue of Beck called Beck and Sanborn to take advantage of Sanborn’s fame.

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