Gong are (and have always been) uninhibited, loose improvisers, qualities that make their live performances (resulting in a myriad of recordings) appealing and satisfying. The continually revolving personnel also keeps the music interesting, as each composition is never played the same way twice -- a characteristic common to jazz music. Like the Bataclan '73 performance, Live at Sheffield, 1974 is a testament to Gong's improvisational excellence and craft.
Sheffield, like Bataclan, successfully highlights Didier Malherbe's freeform, flowing sax and flute work. He's prominent on every track, wailing and riffing at every opportunity; however, his efforts are extraordinary on "Deep in the Sky." Malherbe's lusty, rich sax solo is heartfelt within the dimly lit atmosphere of this instrumental. Unlike Bataclan, Gilli Smyth is not dominant on the Sheffield recording; this results in a jazzy progressive rock devoid of the spacy sound so prevalent on Bataclan '73 and early Gong studio projects.
The emphasis on the jazz element is most evident and inviting on "Mange Ton Calepin," "You Can't Kill Me," "Flying Teapot," and one section of the lengthy "Crystal Gnome" in which the band delves into jazz that would please even jazz purists. In keeping with his reputation, Pierre Moerlen's performance is par excellence. His "Wet Drum Sandwich" solo isn't as consistently fiery as the incredible Bataclan solo, but it succeeds in its quirkiness and frenetic quality.
As a bonus, Live at Sheffield, 1974 includes "Titicaca," a raga-like piece recorded live at Glastonbury in 1989. It stands in stark contrast to the Sheffield material and to Allen's body of work in general. The composition is reminiscent of early Paul Winter/Oregon with its acoustic guitar, flute, and Celtic/Indian inspirations. Sheffield's ten-page booklet features text, in French, by Didier Malherbe, cover artwork courtesy of Daevid Allen, and several photos of Malherbe and Allen. To boot, the sound quality of this Mantra import is quite good.