John Martyn

Live at Leeds/Kendel 1986

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That John Martyn has always been an astonishing live performer is beyond debate. The two shows on Live at Leeds/Kendel 1986, which have been individually released before, capture small group shows 11 years apart, both of which have appeared previously on the One World label, which is a division of Voiceprint. Live at Leeds is a classic by any standards, whether in the original or expanded version, with Martyn taking huge chances on the Echoplex with "Outside In" as well as offering intimate versions of acoustic material, including a stunning take on "Solid Air." With Danny Thompson on bass and Jon Stevens on drums, it's a trio that works sympathetically but also pushes Martyn to some outstanding musicianship, especially Stevens' drumming with its grounding in jazz. It forms an interesting contrast to the 1986 set. Thompson is again a bass anchor, but it's Arran Ahmun behind the kit and on percussion. The set is more acoustic-based, and it's interesting to hear the more recent material recorded with an electric band, put into acoustic settings. "Angeline" and "Johnny Too Bad" fare remarkably well, while "Lookin On," which had become a trademark exploration piece for electric guitar work, takes on completely different colors that bring out the song rather than the music. Given that this was the same year he played a storming set at Glastonbury with a full electric band, he seems entirely comfortable reverting to an acoustic setting, his playing as sharp as ever, his voice having developed -- he'd grown into it, in many ways, and the songs themselves have taken on a patina of years, worked and refined exquisitely.