his most interesting live recording yet

A Night in San Francisco (Polydor)
Van Morrison

By Allen Howie

If only because his appearances on this side of the ocean are so rare, alive album from Van Morrison is always an event. 1974's It's Too late To Stop Now was a terrific showcase for Morrison's soulful brand of rock and roll, while Live at the Grand Opera House Belfast (1985) was pure Celtic poetry, subdued and elegant.

Well, it's the middle of a new decade, and Van the Man has unleashed what may be his most interesting live recording yet, the 2-disc A Night in San Francisco. Recorded last December, it finds Morrison and a superb band brewing up a potent blend of jazz and R&B, mixing his own originals with a generous helping of standards.

The material from Morrison's catalog reaches as far back as "Gloria," his hit with Them, and as far forward as "Have I Told You Lately," the monster that gave Rod Stewart's career such a boost. In between are favorites like "Moondance" and "Tupelo Honey," all buoyed by a spirited performance in which Morrison acts as bandleader, singing and playing alto sax while he lets his musicians shine.

Morrison's influences have always ranged from James Joyce to James Brown, and his choice of songs to cover is as exhilarating for its diversity as for the caliber of his performance. Where else will you find a set list that includes "Thank You Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin," "Stormy Monday," "It's A Man's, Man's, Man's World," "Lonely Avenue," "It's All In The Game" and "You Send Me"?

Every tune here is performed as if Van himself had written it just for this group to play. His voice is in truly remarkable shape, and his players mesh perfectly, from musical director Ronnie Johnson's imaginative guitar, Georgie Fame's swirling organ and Jonn Savannah's dexterous piano solos to Kate St. John's reedwork and Geoff Dunn's chameleonic drumming.

The sound, too, is warm and pristine, conveying the sense of an intimate club date. With 22 cuts, nearly half of which are medleys of two or three tunes, Van Morrison has delivered proof (as if any was still needed) that he remains a modern master of his own eclectic brand of music.