A restless explorer is still finding new territory to conquer

Since the moment he replaced Eric Clapton as lead guitarist for the Yardbirds in March 1965, Jeff Beck has never stopped innovating, pushing ever outward the boundaries of what can be expressed through an electric guitar. His career over the last 45 years has found him exploring jazz fusion, rockabilly, blues and practically any other style you can name. On his latest, Emotion & Commotion, Beck collaborated for the first time with a symphony orchestra.

Why did you include the orchestra?

I always wanted to make an album with an orchestra, a classical album with a twist. Combining the sounds of an orchestra with my guitar has created some incredible music. This album is different than any album I have done before, and playing with an orchestra took my playing to another level.

What’s your approach to a classic like “Somewhere Over the Rainbow?”

[Keyboardist] Jason  [Rebello] said one day, “Why don’t we play ‘Over the Rainbow’ at the end of the show for a change?” I was not keen at all, but we tried it out one day. I distinctly remember where we first tried it out, and the band and crew were in the rehearsal studio. [Drummer] Vinnie [Colaiuta] was writing e-mails, not listening to what we were doing, until I played the first few lines of it. And he folded the top down on his laptop and he went, “That’s great, unbelievable.” Goosebumps! Because the tune is familiar. With this song, I just tried to get the emotion out of the notes I hear.

How did you decide to cover Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma?”

I played “Nessun Dorma” the first time last summer in Viareggio [Italy] with just my guitar and Jason on keyboards. It is such a powerful and iconic song that everyone recognizes.

What does Jason bring to the sound?

Jason is just fantastic, and I am fortunate to have worked with him for a number of years. He adapts to anything and everything, and everyone in this new band just complements each other’s playing. With this combination, I have my dream band.

There are a couple of songs on the record associated with Jeff Buckley.

I was given a Jeff Buckley album, and when I heard it, the simplicity and beauty of the way he sounded amazed me. I felt that if I could do with my guitar what he can do with his voice, then I’d have something pretty special. It worked.

How did you find the singers?

This album is a combination of elements, so it felt right to have vocalists perform some tracks. Imelda May has this pure, effortless and powerful quality to her voice, and I think she should be heard. Joss Stone is an amazing performer. She is a cross between Tina Turner and Janis Joplin. When she sang “I Put a Spell on You,” I knew she was the perfect artist to sing the track. Joss put her own mark on “There’s No Other Me,” and I can play to complement her style. Olivia Safe has a beautiful operatic voice that enhances the orchestra and lifts “Elegy for Dunkirk.”

What’s your advice to new guitarists?

Stay true to the music that speaks to you, and practice. I always put pressure on myself and challenge my playing. I’d hope that I have, and will always, evolve. I continue to challenge myself with each album and stay true to the music I am interested in playing.

Chris Neal

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