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On Final Recording, Joe Beck Exposes Possibilities Of The Guitar


Joe Beck was a hard-working musician who played guitar in recording sessions with James Brown, Miles Davis and Paul Simon.


PAUL SIMON: (Singing)You're so kind. You rescued me when I was blind, and you put me on your pillow when I was on the wall. You're kind, so kind, so kind.

CORNISH: Joe Beck made acclaimed records under his own name as well. But when he died in 2008, he was virtually unknown to the public. Critic Tom Moon came across Joe Beck's final live recording. It's called, "Get Me Joe Beck." He says it's an eye-opening gem of jazz guitar music.

TOM MOON: Every August, there comes a reckoning on my desk. In order to make room for fall releases, I have to clear out the computer files and CDs that piled up during the spring and summer. That's when I came across this gem, which was released back in April.


MOON: That's Joe Beck, whose serene, liquid tone was an integral part of so many pop and R&B records of the 1970s. Beck retired from music a few times, once becoming a dairy farmer. He spent the last decade or so of his life playing jazz and Brazilian music. On this live date, recorded at Anna's Jazz Island in Berkeley, California in 2006, Beck transforms overplayed standards into sparkling new creations.


MOON: Right away, you hear it; this is someone who has deep control of the expressive possibilities of a guitar. His chords are swift and sneaky. They open up the harmony in unexpected ways. And Beck's lines are wonderfully melodic. Even when he's playing tricky stuff, everything just flows. He makes things easy for his bassist and drummer. Incredibly, he met them for the first time the day before this recording.


MOON: Introducing one of the tunes, Beck says he thinks of the guitar as a six-piece band. And that's exactly how it sounds. Lurking beneath his melodies are cleverly intertwined layers of supporting ideas, each one suggesting a new pathway. They say that jazz is an acquired taste, but encountering virtuosity like this, I'm not so sure. Anyone who appreciates a well-played guitar will get Joe Beck.

CORNISH: The posthumous release by Joe Beck is called, "Get Me Joe Beck." Our reviewer is Tom Moon. This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tom Moon has been writing about pop, rock, jazz, blues, hip-hop and the music of the world since 1983.
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