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Released as part of a series of live recordings made by engineer and club owner Jacky Barbier, Live! captures Zao right before the fall. In the last few months of 1976, the group had released its fourth LP (Kawana) and confirmed the full membership of violinist Didier Lockwood (following his departure from Magma). As it embarked on a tour to support the new album, it also lost its founding sax player and main composer, Yochk'o Seffer, after only a few shows. And so for a while, including for this December 5, 1976 gig, Zao carried on as a quartet. A few months later Lockwood, bassist Gérard Prevost, and drummer Jean Mytruong would also quit, leaving François Cahen the task of rebuilding the band for a disappointing final effort. Live! showcases Zao at its most fusion-esque. After the contemporary classical experiments of Shekina, Kawana marked a return to a more vital sound. The rhythm section is fast and furious, still combining the pounding of Magma-inherited zeuhl with high-octane jazz-rock (think Isotope or latter-era Soft Machine). Lockwood stretches out to fill the gap left by Seffer's absence and succeeds marvelously. Without Seffer's sharp-edged horn, the music adopts a darker persona. "Isis" and "Tserouf" stand out because of their relentless drive and the virtuosity they display -- also because they sport a decent sound quality. Elsewhere, sound is far from perfect, and even more annoying: it is unstable. A song can be clear-sounding at first, then suffer from muffled passages or drops in volume. Still, Live! contributes a meaningful, appreciated complement to Zao's discography.

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