John Martyn

Live in Milan 1979

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Recorded at the very end of the '70s, just before Martyn turned to his now-preferred band format, this is very much the last gasp of the man working as a solo performer. But few solo artists have had such a complete sound. To be fair, the sound quality leaves more than a bit to be desired, but this concert, from the Teatro Do Porto Romana is quite electrifying -- and not just on the electric cuts, either. "Seven Black Roses," for example, showcases his picking skills, while "Bless the Weather" isn't taken as a straight reading of the favorite tune, but as a springboard for improvisation. Martyn himself is in excellent form, begging spliffs from the crowd and indulging in banter that the Italians might not even have understood. But when he really plugs in, things take off. There's a crunching version of "Big Muff," while "Outside In" is a Medusa of echoplexed guitar lines, a real meeting place between folk and avant-garde jazz, and one of the best versions of the piece to have appeared on record. "One World" is gloriously sinuous and ethereal, spinning out to the stratosphere. Two of the cuts here aren't from the show -- the hammering, violent version of "I'd Rather Be the Devil" actually dates from 1977, while the medley of "Stay/Anna/Small Hours" ("Stay" being the old Maurice Williams song, given a thoroughly new reading, and "Anna" a rarely-heard Martyn tune) was recorded on the same Italian tour. Listening to this, you can understand, in a way, why he needed to start using a band. He'd taken the solo artist format every bit as far as it could go.

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