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P.F.M.: Cook (Expanded Deluxe Edition)

John Kelman By

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Wrapping up Esoteric Recordings' ambitious, thorough and definitive reissue series of Premiata Forneria Marconi's 1970s English-language releases on Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Manticore label, the Italian progressive rock group's sole commercial live recording from the time, Cook (1975), gets a facelift and significant upgrade. The original release was marred by poor sound and energetic but sloppy performances, compared to PFM's fine studio albums, from which most of the music was culled: Manticore's Photos of Ghosts (1973) and The World Became the World (1974); and the quintet's corresponding, purist-preferred Italian language albums, Storia Di Un Minuto (1971), Per Un Amico (1972) and L'Isola Di Niente (1974), all on Numero Uno.

Cook (Expanded Deluxe Edition) does its best to make the six-tune set, from dates in Toronto, Canada and New York City's Central Park, sound as good as possible, but the real gold is the entire Central Park performance, here for the first time on two bonus discs and mixed from the original 16-track master tapes. The considerably improved sound renders the original first disc almost superfluous, and while the performance is equally marred by some imprecise playing and poor time, the absolutely visceral energy of this incendiary, 87-minute set allows its many transgressions to be forgiven.

The biggest culprit is guitarist Franco Mussida, who awkwardly pushes and pulls time during the constantly accelerating, serpentine melody at the heart of "Four Holes in the Ground." Still, the previously unreleased, virtuosic and acoustic "Guitar Solo" posits a fine, classically trained guitarist who, like the rest of PFM, asserts his dominance without relying on "look at me" pyrotechnics. His accompaniment on the pastoral ballad "Just Look Away," is as on the money as his phase-shifted arpeggios driving the opening to the more energetic, episodic "Is My Face on Straight?," and his wah-wah solo, later in that track, shows PFM weighing towards the heavier fusion-centric sound of subsequent recordings like 1976's Chocolate Kings.

Keyboardist Flavio Premoli is equally impressive on "Is My Face," as he follows Mussida with an accordion solo that lends the group its definitive Mediterranean vibe, though his synth solo, just a couple minutes, later speaks more of the influence of American fusioners like Mahavishnu Orchestra. Mauro Pagani is the group's secret weapon, a flautist of delicate grace but an electric violinist who, based on the nuclear jam "Alto Loma Five Till Nine"—including PFM's hokey but still impressive take on Rossini's iconic "William Tell Overture"—clearly deserves more recognition than he ever got.

The entire collection is also marred by the group's vocals—not its near-phonetic rendition of ex-King Crimson lyricist Peter Sinfield's lyrics, but in terms of range, pitch and stamina. Still, despite more flaws than might render another group unlistenable, the sheer cathartic power of PFM's high voltage performance and the superior sonics of the Central Park show now rescued in its entirety, make Cook (Deluxe Expanded Edition) the definitive pre-1975 PFM live release, and with the bonus live disc included on Esoteric's Chocolate Kings reissue, two gaps in this important Italian group's history have now been filled.

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