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SOFT MACHINE Third Album Cover Third
SOFT MACHINE
4.73 | 50 ratings
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SANTANA Caravanserai Album Cover Caravanserai
SANTANA
4.68 | 40 ratings
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YES Fragile Album Cover Fragile
YES
4.91 | 8 ratings
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PARLIAMENT Mothership Connection Album Cover Mothership Connection
PARLIAMENT
4.85 | 9 ratings
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CURTIS MAYFIELD Superfly Album Cover Superfly
CURTIS MAYFIELD
4.96 | 6 ratings
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KING CRIMSON Larks' Tongues In Aspic Album Cover Larks' Tongues In Aspic
KING CRIMSON
4.65 | 30 ratings
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STEVIE WONDER Innervisions Album Cover Innervisions
STEVIE WONDER
4.73 | 13 ratings
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JOHN ZORN Magick Album Cover Magick
JOHN ZORN
4.83 | 8 ratings
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FRANK ZAPPA The Grand Wazoo (The Mothers) Album Cover The Grand Wazoo (The Mothers)
FRANK ZAPPA
4.62 | 37 ratings
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STEELY DAN Aja Album Cover Aja
STEELY DAN
4.65 | 23 ratings
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MARTIN DENNY Exotica Album Cover Exotica
MARTIN DENNY
4.94 | 5 ratings
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STEELY DAN Countdown to Ecstasy Album Cover Countdown to Ecstasy
STEELY DAN
4.62 | 17 ratings
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jazz related Music Reviews

SISTER ROSETTA THARPE Gospel Train

Album · 1956 · Gospel Jazz
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siLLy puPPy
SISTER ROSETTA THARPE was known as both “the original soul sister” and as “the godmother of rock’n’roll” but first and foremost she was a gospel musician who incorporated some of the first fusion of R&B mixed with gospel and her own unique guitar playing style all the way back in the 1930s that would ultimately be deemed a new musical genre called rock’n’roll. Yes, it was SISTER ROSETTA THARPE, a name that should be known in every music lover’s mind, not only because she was so influential in the development of a musical genre that changed the world, but also because she was a powerhouse of musical expression in her own right. This woman was pioneering her own vision all the way back in the 1920s!

She was really the first to blur the sacred and the secular (did you hear that Ray Charles fans?) and walked in darkness to display the light. She had pop sensibilities before pop music existed, knew how to blend the best of the blues, contemporary gospel and the early 20th century jazz techniques to create her own brand of spiritually uplifting music magic. While SISTER ROSETTA actually found success and had many hits in the 30s and 40s, the lack of her music being readily available on CD form in the modern age has nudged curious music lovers such as myself into finding her most readily available album GOSPEL TRAIN which was released in 1956 as my first SISTER experience and i have to say that i’m not in the least bit disappointed. This woman has the soul of Mahalia Jackson accompanied by the coolest of organists, honky tonk piano players and catchy melodies. Instantly addictive, the mystique of her history is also an addictive quality knowing that the blueprints for everything rock, metal and beyond came from this humble woman born in Cotton Plant, Arkansas, USA in 1915.

This short but sweet album is the perfect introduction into ROSETTA’s unique gospel experience where she plays her guitar while looking up to the heavens above pontificating all the positivity she can muster up. I would have to say that i don’t really agree that SISTER ROSETTA was the actual creator of rock’n’roll because rock is not just a guitar lick and rhythmic style alone. It is an attitude as well. No doubt she was a precursor and a vitally important one that led to the the birth of the rock’n’roll world of the 1950s that led to Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and even the one who didn’t give SISTER THARPE credit, Elvis Presley. I hear a lot of Tina Turner going on here as well actually. The truth is she wasn’t pure rock’n’roll as we came to know it once it hit the main stream. She was unapologetically a gospel musician and singer through and through but unknowingly was a MAJOR influence of so much of what came after and for that we certainly need to give this woman credit where credit is due. After all is said and done about all the rock’n’roll creds, this music is just infectious for what it is. It is upbeat, it is positive and it is from the heart and just beautiful. If this music doesn’t seep into your heart and blow you away then you’re simply just not human!

EARTH WIND & FIRE That's the Way of the World

Album · 1975 · Jazz Related RnB
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js
Although as the 80s dragged on, they eventually became a talented, yet sometimes bland pop group, this was not how Earth Wind and Fire started. Many would be surprised to know that the roots of this group go back to Chicago’s avant-garde AACM, and their first album was the soundtrack to the outsider classic, “Sweet Sweetback’s Badass Song”, on which EW&F played furious psychedelic fusion in the style of Herbie’s Sextet. After this rather obscure beginning, founder Maurice White decided to keep the creativity intact, but also aim for some radio play too. With all this in mind, EW&F grew to be a powerhouse in the world of RnB, fusion, rock and pop during the 70s, and many would agree that they hit their first major peak with the 1975 studio masterpiece, “That’s the Way of the World”.

In the mid 70s, no other RnB or rock band carried as much pure talent as EW&F, their horn section could outplay many jazzers, their rhythm section could hold their own against WAR, Santanna or Weather Report, vocally they took arrangements to new heights in harmony and range, and finally, their compositions were modern, complex and way ahead of the field. Throughout the 70s, EW&F’s compositional approach was more influential on fusion artists than most other jazz artists. All through “That’s the Way”, EW&F tops driving syncopated African rhythms with floating abstract harmonies that recall Ellington and Debussy.

Almost every song on here is a classic, with only one sore thumb, the rather cliché ballad, “All About Love”. Modernist ballads with soaring harmonies were EW&F’s trademark, so its hard to understand how this less than stellar cut made the grade, but its all made up when it is followed by a short and attractively bizarre synth instrumental. For fans who already like this album, you need to check out the album “Gratitude”, on which the band plays these songs live and takes their mix of Ellington, Beatles, Stevie Wonder and Ohio Players, to new levels. As mentioned earlier, as the 80s dragged into the 90s and beyond, EW&F, much like their musical compadres Chicago and Genesis, became more wind and earth, and much less fire.

HAPPY THE MAN Happy The Man

Album · 1977 · Jazz Related Rock
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siLLy puPPy
Of all the progressive rock bands from the USA that made the grade in the prog rich decade of the 70s, none were so eclectic and far reaching as HAPPY THE MAN which began its days as far back as 1973 in Harrisonburg, Virgina when guitarist Stanley Whitaker and bassist Rick Kennell met in Germany and once they returned back to the US decided to share their passion for progressive rock and form a band. The band actually took their odd name from a quote from Goethe’s “Faust.” (“Oh happy the man who can still hope”) After several lineups along the way, the band spent some years as a cover band glorifying the bigwigs of the day such as Genesis, King Crimson and Van Der Graaf Generator. On one fortuitous day playing in Washington DC, the band caught the attention of an exec from Arista records who was so impressed that he showed interest in signing the band which was quite surprising considering the year of 1976 was seeing the major decline of prog and more interest building towards punk and arena rock. In that very same year, none other than Peter Gabriel was scouting out musicians for his solo career and although after hearing them play decided their sound wasn’t compatible with his, did manage to help secure a contract with Arista for a 5 year multi-album deal but would actually end after only two releases.

HAPPY THE MAN the band released their eponymous debut album in 1977 and as you would might have guessed, failed to make any type of commercial impact at all but did manage to create a unique eclectic symphonic prog meets jazz-fusion type of sound. The album begins innocently enough sounding like something that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Weather Report album as the suave jazzy passages slink around like a smooth syncopated caterpillar walk but soon displays the band’s tendencies to erupt into serious prog frenzies with keyboards as spastic as Keith Emerson accompanied by extreme musical travails with complex arrangements and instrumental gymnastics. While most tracks on the album are instrumental there are some such as “Upon The Rainbow” that are slowed down and focus on the lyrics. These make me think of what a much more adventurous Steely Dan might sound like if they turned the prog and jazz-fusion up a few notches. I would however say that the vocal parts are my least favorite parts even though they aren’t bad or anything. The band just shines so much more brightly when they let loose and erupt into prog outbursts.

This is a symphonic prog lover’s dream come true with lush Hammond organs, rhodes pianos, minimoogs and clavinets dishing out dreamy synthesized jazzed up melodies often overlapping and creating complex polyphony accompanied by rocking bass and percussion and frequent slick solos that crank it up and run wild. While guitar is included in both six and twelve string form, it is more subdued and is more than drowned out by the heavy dominance of the symphonic elements swirling around like a wild tornado that can calm to a gentle ocean breeze in the blink of an eye. While the tempo shifts can be abrupt, the music is always allowed to breathe and carry out its intended effect. On the jazz side of things the band includes a sax in various sections and also on board is the use of flute and marimba for the occasional folk and ethnic influences, however for the majority of the album’s running time we are simply treated to an all assault on the senses with polyphonic keyboard runs overlapping and creating interesting dynamics. HAPPY THE MAN is one of those band’s that reminds you of many others (Genesis, Camel, Weather Report, ELP) but always keeps their sound unique and truly their own. This band is one of my favorites of the 70s to emerge from the US where prog bands were always several steps behind the European scene. Along with Kansas, Zappa, Santana, Yezda Urfa and The Muffins, HAPPY THE MAN were in the upper tier of United Statesian prog.

MAGMA Attahk

Album · 1978 · Jazz Related Rock
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siLLy puPPy
The musical times were a-changin’ and even the Kobaians were influenced by the heavy gravitational forces of the music industry. MAGMA had broken up for a year after “ÜDÜ ẀÜDÜ” but Christian Vander decided to resurrect the band two years later with an entirely different lineup and with it an entirely different sound. Out of the thirteen musicians and vocalists to be on the previous album, only Vander himself, vocalist Klaus Blasquiz, vocalist Lisa Bois and keyboardist Benoît Widemann returned for the sixth MAGMA album ATTAHK. Out were Bernard Paganotti and Patrick Gauthier who left to form Weidorje as well as the enigmatic Jannick Top whose contribution was seemingly irreplaceable and the musical cast has been trimmed down to a mere eight performers. This is a strange album in the MAGMA discography as it seems utterly disjointed from the rest (still haven’t heard “Merci” though.) Gone are many of the complexities from the first few albums and gone are the interesting developments of “ÜDÜ ẀÜDÜ” and instead what we do get is a more watered down version of zeuhl mixed with a lot of more accessible musical styles.

A lot of this is a matter of personal taste, of course, but i just don’t find this album as enchanting as the rest. Kobaian music, after all, isn’t supposed to be designed for Earthly consumption. It is supposed to be alien and take you somewhere you never considered. ATTAHK never seems like it is going anywhere specific and randomly lollygags through a rather MAGMA-by-the-numbers approach of shortened takes on previous albums. Take the first track “The Last Seven Minutes” for example. What we get here is a zeuhlish take on funk where it sounds like Vander is trying to take his vocals to new levels. After several minutes of this funky zeuhl we get some of his most intense screeches and high pitched squeals ever. The only problem with this for me is that it ends up sounding like a cross between the high falsettos of Prince from the “Lovesexy” album mixed with the trills of an orgasmic Edith Piaf. It seems incessant at the end and i am left wondering just what he had in mind with this one.

For some reason i’m just not keen on this simplified version of MAGMA. I am hardly against pop music and when progressive pop works for whatever reason i am quite receptive but this album drifts hither and tither without developing those elements sufficiently. That said, this album isn’t totally without its merits. It’s really the first two tracks that turn me off totally, but starting with “Rindë” (which would be stolen and incorporated into “Ëmëhntëht-Ré” like tracks from other MAGMA albums) the pace picks up and although the tracks are short, sweet and to the point they at least sound more within the Kobaian universe of intergalactic Top 40 hits at least. There will be many familiar elements from the past only embellished with much more Vander falsetto squeals laced with healthy doses of funk, R&B, gospel and pop elements. My favorite track on here is the closing “Nono” which has a bass worthy of the departed Jannick Top being on board.

This is an album that is hard for me to get excited about but is an ok listen when all is said and done. Just expect a MAGMA lite and you won’t be too disappointed. Definitely one of the weaker albums in the discography but this is MAGMA after all and even the bottom of the barrel has a lot of interest and worthy of adding to any collection. I personally like the album cover a lot but despite its über-hipness by H.R. Giger, the music just doesn’t measure up to the expectations i had for it. As good as some of these tracks are it isn’t quite the otherworldliness that the Kobaians have been so adept in spoiling us with. This MAGMA stream isn’t exactly a steaming hot pyroclastic flow of originality laced with Kobaian litanies of tales of extraterrestrial phenomena but hardly a throwaway album either.

MAGMA Merci

Album · 1984 · Jazz Related RnB
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siLLy puPPy
Wow! Is this MAGMA or Earth, Wind & Fire? Christian Vander, are you there somewhere?!! Did the Kobaians beam you all back up to your planet? Or did they implant those dreaded disco soul chips in you again. What can we think of the most hated album in the MAGMA discography. After the excellent run of originality and channeling of otherworldly forces that lasted from their debut in 1970 to “Üdü Wüdü’ in 1976, it seems even advanced technology could not help the Kobaians hold back the backlash that dethroned progressive leaning music of the early 70s. While some bands like King Crimson were wise enough to call it a day before the great shift, others who stuck around found themselves watering down their output album by album, whittling away their loyal fan bases and becoming shallow caricatures of their innovative glory years.

Even the Kobains succumbed to these pressures as heard on the watered down “Attahk” in 1978, add to that the financial pressures of operating such a huge number of musicians on board with an ever chaining cast of members and it’s really not hard to imagine the temptation to dummy down the innovations and go for the gold in the highly profitable pop music world of the 80s. Perhaps a good idea at the time but considering this is a whole different band of musicians on board (at least 25!), Vander could have had the decency to at least release this under a different moniker that wouldn’t tarnish the image of one of the 70s’ most unique forces in the prog world. After six years of inactivity the album was a hodgepodge of tracks recorded throughout the early 80s and at this point Vander was bored with the whole MAGMA thing anyway and after the release of MERCI would suspend activities with the band and focus on his jazz-fusion oriented Offering albums.

“Call From The Dark” begins the album and after a few tinkles of some strings and immediately begins what sounds like something you would hear on a disco soul album around 1979 leaving a first time listener accustomed to all the zeuhlisciousness of previous MAGMA offerings totally bewildered and just a few notes away from pumping out “Boogie Wonderland.” While the music itself is perfectly decent for that type of sound, complete with beautiful vocals, a horn section to die for and a nice booty shakin’ rhythmic section, it’s like whoa!!! Is this MAGMA? WTF?

The second track “Otis” is less danceable and at least has a faint trace of the vocal trade offs of Vander and female vocalists from the past, but this song is particularly weak although perhaps acceptable for aging Kobaians in nursing homes or doctor’s offices. Vander’s screams in the middle sound like a mating cat and totally out of step with this mellow repetitive soul music. “Do The Music” is a rather strange little track as it sounds like zeuhl is battling it out with disco leaving the listener with no clear winner but admittedly a unique experiment that does make me think of going to the disco on Kobaia! I mean, they need to get a little light now and again too! “Otis (ending)” is a gospel sounding organ track with Vander screeching. Hmmm. No comment.

The one long track on here “Eliphas Levi” is the anomaly. It actually feels more like the zeuhl music we were expecting albeit more serene, pacified and stripped down in both instrumentation and feel. It does however have those ratcheting vocal deliveries that build in repetition accompanied by piano and percussion. This one is actually pretty enjoyable although very much on simmer as opposed to the full intense pyroclastic flow MAGMA usually delivers as the track drags on for over eleven minutes and feels like it never gets up to expected speed. The vocals are quite pleasant though and this is probably the best track on board and has a pleasant complex interchange at the end.

The album ends with the appropriately titled “The Night We Died” suggesting a now neutered MAGMA calling it a day and throwing in the towel. This is basically a sombre piano ballad with the Kobain females singing in unison. Overall i end with the same impression as i began. WTF? This would be perfectly good music for the most part for a Motown act trying to revive their career although a little unfocused but this MAGMA! Those who are held to a higher standard of complexity and innovative incremental progression as well as a higher energy level. This album is too mellow for its own good with the most energetic track sounding like a Michael Jackson B-side with Earth, Wind & Fire backing it up. Nothing on here is bad per se but for a band that carved its own niche in music and continued to ratchet it up album by album, this is surely a let down. After hearing this, it’s very hard to believe they would come back stronger than ever 20 years down the road.

jazz related movie reviews

KING CRIMSON Neal And Jack And Me

Movie · 2004 · Jazz Related Rock
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Sean Trane
This DVD will please many of the third Crimson phase fans combines two tours: the Beat tour and the Three Of A Perfect pair. Oddly enough, they are presented in a non- chronological order, but this is a very minor point. One of the things I was particularly uneasy about was Bruford's use of electronic percussions and drums and we get a load of those "things" and like all technology novelty, the risk is that it ages poorly and sadly here, it is the case. Another point I had not appreciated is the stage presence of Adrian Belew, which is clearly copied from David Byrne from his collaborations with The Talking Heads - I love the T Heads, but Belew's stage antics are too derivative and ill fitted for Crimson. There are a few tracks present twice and most notably the boring Mate Kusadai.

Strictly on the visual front, Crimson was clearly making efforts to look hip and appeal to a more new-wave-ish public. Those were the days! But I never said that they were good, either!

Among the bonuses, are a video clip and a few titbits, but sadly still missing is that mini- concert footage filmed for the Discipline release and them playing four tracks in front of a red curtain. I may be severe with my rating of this DVD but I am not a real fan of that era.

GONG Classic Rock Legends

Movie · 2000 · Jazz Related Rock
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seyo
This video contains live performances from 1990 Live on TV album. Four original members of GonG are present: Pip Pyle, Didier Malherbe, Gilli Smyth and an oddball-harlequin persona of the spiritus movens, Daevid Allen.

Performance is focused on their legendary Radio Gnome Invisible trilogy, with 3 starters from Camembert Electrique. Since I have no idea what GonG looked like on scene back in the early 1970s (that is, before I took a peek at several Youtube clips recently), I guess this DVD makes up a lot for that, the age of the performers notwithstanding.

In fact, seeing these unique art-performers in their senior age can just assure you how the music and art in general can surpass generations, years and ages if you wish. Musicianship is great, movie direction very good with several cameras shooting from different angles, while only the engagement of the dancers to invoke the mystical gnomey creatures may be seen as too over-stressed.

The finale presents perhaps too long goodbye with the extended "I Am You" jam, but when Daevid jumps down into the audience you can actually see the highly emotional and spiritual connection between the band and the people, done in an almost religious-like chanting. This is excellent video and should be seen by all those who have at least some knowledge of the Planet GonG trilogy repertoire!

BILL BRUFORD Bbc Rock Goes To College: Live 1979

Movie · 2006 · Jazz Related Rock
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Dick Heath
I remember seeing this originally on BBC 2 a few weeks after it was recorded in one of the canteens of Oxford Poly, and getting a mix of intense pleasure. In particular pleasure from the tour de force that Holdsworth had developed into (and screamed out at me on Feels Good To Me)and the unknown bass-wiz Jeff Berlin. But there was disappointment over Annette's contribution to the set - when her husky voice breathed sex at me on the album.

Now here from the Beeb's archives is the original 70's video quality footage as originally shown on 625 lines. The pleasure points remain, with some details emphasised. However the disappointment is worse, in particular there is a promise of something special as Peacock flounces on part way through the set, dressed as the fashion queen,(thereby drawing the contrast with the blokes in the band). However,again the expectation of something special evaporates quickly - the diva can't 'deave' live in sympathy with the music, the band i.e. her vocals are poor. Fortunately we don't have to suffer this for long and thank goodness for the skip button.

Yes this is a short recording*, and isn't there a missed opportunity here? One DVD burn (of a copy of a copy, etc.) of this gig I saw some years ago and suffering horribly from colour dropout, had the addition of two extra numbers by Bruford recorded off from the Old Grey Whistle Test - here with I think Neil Murray deputing for Jeff Berlin. Surely the Beeb could had offered these as well?

*Interesting to see another Rock Goes To College recording of Herbie Hancock & the Headhunters recorded at the now defuncted Chelsea College, that had resurfaced on BBC 4 2 years ago, was an hour long.

STING Bring On The Night

Movie · 2005 · Pop Jazz/Crossover
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Slartibartfast
The concept here is a documentary of a band forming, The Blue Turtles Band, rather than a band at their peak or breaking up. Fortunately it is heavier on the music than the documentary.

The first half takes place in a French countryside chateaux and consists of presentable songs from nine days of practice sessions for what was to be their first show. Everyone in the band seems to be having a good time. The chateaux provides nice a nice backdrop to the sessions. The second half is the show itself.

Since this was Sting's first post Police effort, there's a lot of reworked Police songs mixed in with tracks from the first album. It's sort of like the Police meets jazz with Andy Summers ejected so Sting could play guitar. The band line up is primarily younger jazz musicians that already had a good reputation for work they had done before hooking up with Sting.

There are interview excerpts between the songs. One of the more interesting ones was Miles Copeland, Sting's manager and Stewart's brother going on about negotiations with the rest of the band. He was extremely dismissive of the band in relation to Sting when it came to monetary compensation. I suspect that was more about himself getting a bigger piece of the pie than a reflection on Sting, although I do recall him guest appearing on a Saturday Night Live show with Steve Marting and Steve introducing him as Stin-gy.

I originally saw this one in a theater and was really pleased to see it released being reworked with "high definition digital anamorphic picture transfer and digitally remastered surround audio." It actually does look a little sharper than I recall and I think the orginal sound was just stereo.

BILL BRUFORD Bbc Rock Goes To College: Live 1979

Movie · 2006 · Jazz Related Rock
Cover art Buy this album from MMA partners
Slartibartfast
This is incredible. I had the good fortune of seeing Bruford, unfortunately post Holdsworth, at the now defunct Atlanta Agora. I did get to catch Holdsworth touring for his I.O.U. album, but that's another story. My first pass through this concert really gave me the goosebumps.

It is unfortunate that this DVD is only 41 minutes, but the set list is excellent. Four tracks from Bruford's best album, One of a Kind. Annette Peacock even shows up for a couple of songs. I always thought that she didn't fit in well with this kind of music, but it's nice to see her all the same. I hope I'm wrong, but I don't think there's any live video out there of Alan Holdsworth, so seeing him in action is a special treat. One of the things I remember most from seeing Bruford was that at times Jeff Berlin's picking fingers were a blur and seeing him again live, I know I wasn't imagining it. Dave Stewart, or as I like to call him, The Dave Stewart, not that Eurythmics guy, is also a lot of fun to see in action. I noticed he had a music stand with no sheet music, but a synthesizer diagram, interesting. And then of course there's Bill. Those of you who may dislike his electronic drum work, I'm not one, will be happy to him playing strictly acoustic. What can I say? He's really one of best drummers around. The audio quality is excellent and sometimes the camera man crop off Holdsworth's left hand when I'd like to see it, but other than that, this is really nice for a concert captured in 1979.

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