This 1975 release is a high-water mark for Jeff Beck and the beginning of his “jazz rock” phase. To be honest though, this really isn’t jazz rock in the Return to Forever sense of the term. It swings. It grooves. Think of Herbie Hancock circa 1974 (the album Thrust comes to mind). It’s also playful – this album is a lot of fun to listen to. It’s my favorite and has been since I first heard it in (ugh, maybe 79-80?) – as I recall, it was a guitarist that introduced me to Blow by Blow.
The tunes are well-written instrumentals. Jeff has a pretty good band backing him up – I especially like the rhythm section. The drummer is excellent, and while not a virtuoso, the bassist plays crisp and tasteful lines. I also love the tone he gets (sounds like a Fender Precision bass). The keyboard parts are great – lot of Fender Rhodes and (very funky) clavinet. It provides a nice backdrop. And of course we have the maestro himself Jeff Beck – the timbre, texture, and tone he gets out of his guitar is extraordinary. His playing alternately burns and is bittersweet, bordering on lachrymose.
The moods on this album range from upbeat and playful to wistful. My favorite tracks are closer to the jazz rock end of the spectrum like Freeway Jam and Scatterbrain, although I also enjoy the quieter tracks Cause’ we ended as Lovers and Diamond Dust. There really is something for everyone here. In fact, I would recommend this album to people who are not fans of jazz rock. This album only flirts with jazz rock and avoids the breakneck tempos, shredding, and odd chords/time signatures that I associate with the genre.
The production quality is excellent (thank you Sir George Martin). There does not appear to be any compression or distortion – the recording does not seem to be a victim of the loudness wars. There is also pretty good separation of instruments although sometimes the keyboards get buried. Also, the bass can get a bit loud here and there but not too often. The drums sound spectacular though!
All in all, this is one of the finest albums by Jeff Beck and one of the friendliest jazz rock albums I own. For those of you that want the volume turned up a bit on the jazz rock, you might enjoy the follow-up album Wired (1976). There is some absolutely sick playing on the album (includes Mahavishnu Orchestra alumni), although I don’t think that Wired is as cohesive and all-around awesome as Blow by Blow.