Distant Starlight is the latest album of Jef Bek. I don't mean Jeff Beck, the English guitarist who rose to prominence as a member of the rock band the Yardbirds and afterwards founded and fronted the Jeff Beck Group and Beck, Bogert & Appice. The brilliant musician who unfortunately died one year ago on January 10. No, this review is about the American composer/multi-instrumentalist from Chicago who continues to draw from his early, as well as new, musical inspirations and who speaks with his own distinctive musical voice which he's developed over his established 40+ year career. He has an impressive tally of 17 awards and nominations for his contributions to original music in theatrical productions. Maybe therefore some of you out there know him primarily for his theatrical musical compositions including Evel Knievel The Rock Opera. But to be honest I wasn't aware of Mr. Bek until he contacted me about his latest album. Well, I must tell you I am glad he did because Distant Starlight is without any doubt a fine album to listen to.
For Distant Starlight he wrote all the music and lyrics. He played on the drums, keyboards and did some vocals (1,4,5,6) and slide guitar (4).A rather large list of guest musicians accompanied him to come up with an excellent progressive rock album. Well I guess I can't leave anybody out mentioning. So here they are: Callum Crush on vocals, additional vocal arrangements (1,2,3,7), Chris Block on bass (7), guitars (2,3,7) and mellotron (2).Bill Henshell on bass (2,3) and guitar (2). Jeff Libersher on guitar (1,3,5), Jill Marie Burke on vocals (3), Dan Sweigert on guitar (4,5), Thymme Jones on trumpet (4), James Musser on guitar (1), Joshua Finkel on vocals (5), Greg Schultz on guitars (2), Rick Zaccaro on bass (1,4), Saskia Chen on vocals (1), Steve Karolus on bass (5), Cody Blake on tuba (4) and Dan Burke on guitar and sounds (1). Told you it is a long list of contributors.
Right from the start on this one hour long album it becomes very clear that Bek is most of all inspired and influenced by the early album releases of Yes, the English progressive rock band. Jef's excellent keyboard parts in many ways resembles the way Rick Wakeman played on his piano, organ and brass synthesizers. Strangely enough the typical Minimoog sound of Wakeman can't be heard on the entire album. Also the vocal parts reminded me of the way how Jon Anderson and Chris Squire did the vocal parts in this band. Solo and harmony wise. Also the guitar parts on which you hear a kind of lap steel guitar move towards the playing of Steve Howe. As for the strong drum parts done by Jef himself as well, it seemed he has been influenced by Carl Palmer, The P in Emerson, Lake & Palmer. However his keyboard playing hardly sounds like Keith Emerson and music wise it hardly moves into the direction of this musical trio. Towards the end of the album different bands come to the surface which might have inspired Bek to write progressive rock compositions. Most of all on the final piece of music. On When Silence Calls you can hear on the intro the same kind of piano intro Genesis used on The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway. The title track of the legendary concept album released in 1974. Furthermore elements taken from the debut album made by UK in 1978 did I hear. And also King Crimson during their Red (1974) period came to mind while listening to the final track on this fine album.
So after listening to this fine release it becomes rather clear to me that Jef listened throughout his childhood and the years to become an adolescent to the many great progressive rock bands of the seventies. Where else do you get all those musical influences from? Well in a way I am glad he did this, otherwise he might not have come up with a strong album which is most of all recommended to people who enjoy the albums made in the seventies by bands such as UK, King Crimson, Genesis and most of all Yes! Listening tips; Distant Starlight and When Silence Calls!
**** Henri Strik (edited by Tracy van Os van den Abeelen)
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