John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola, Paco DeLucia: Friday Night in San Francisco

Sacha O'Grady By

Sign in to view read count
On 5th December, 1980, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Paco De Lucia were two months into what had so far been an extremely successful and creative tour. Even just the concept itself was intriguing—three guitarists, and acoustic to boot! With not a drummer, percussionist, or bassist in sight. The sheer novelty of it all. Recorded at the Warfield Theatre, California, Friday Night in San Francisco manages to capture this triumvirate trio of instrumentalists at the apex of their abilities.

Now Paco, although he wasn't all that well known outside of Spain, was already something of a super star of Flamenco, and whose virtuosity on guitar was as much respected as it was unmatched. McLaughlin was undoubtedly the most renowned, having played with Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Tony Williams, Jimi Hendrix, Santana, along with pretty much the who's who of jazz-rock and everyone else in between. Di Meola was probably somewhere in the middle of the other two. His career began officially when he became a member of Return to Forever, before releasing a series of highly acclaimed solo albums, and was also voted best jazz guitarist four times in Guitar Player Magazine (in other words, the bloke had a following).

Now some Flamenco purists might turn their noses up at the fact that Di Meola and McLaughlin are using a plectrum, when Paco wasn't. But that shouldn't bother the listener one bit. All that matters is the music itself; and plectrum or no, this is unquestionably some of the hottest acoustic guitar ever to have been performed in front of a live audience.

The performance opens with a dazzling duet between Al and Paco on "Mediterranean Sunset," a Di Meola composition first released on his second solo album Elegant Gypsy in 1977. Al's signature light-speed riffs are everywhere, while Paco plays some ferocious Flamenco. Both are in perfect simpatico throughout, right to the scintillating and exciting climax at the end. Exhilarating for both players and audience alike I'm sure.

Next we have Chick Corea's "Short Tales of the Black Forest," where Di Meola and McLaughlin really do pull out all the stops as performers, like two gunslingers attempting to prove who can shoot the furthest and fastest. There is even a brief reference to Henry Mancini's "Pink Panther" thrown in for good measure, something which elicits much laughter from the audience. They also throw in a little 12 bar blues before finishing with a fiery crescendo.

"Frevo Rasgado, a song written by Egberto Gismonti, begins side two, where this time we have McLaughlin and Paco locked together in mortal six string combat. Personally the money's on Paco, but McLaughlin's not too far behind. Both manage to give as good as the other, as far as this listener's concerned, and while it's Paco who probably has the edge, their exchange is purely magical all the same.

Di Meola's "Fantasia Suite" finds all three on stage exchanging notes at an ever complicated rate. One can hear occasionally an audience member cry out during the quieter moments, but even on LP the listener is simply overwhelmed by the sheer synergy and power on display here. It's as if they had of had a dose of speed about an hour before the show. And that's what must have impressed people at the time, no matter how sophisticated they might have been.

Oddly, the final track is a studio recording made in White Plains, New York. Written by McLaughlin, "Guardian Angel" finds the trio managing to capture not only the complexity of their playing, but also the camaraderie between all three men. It is a relationship which lasted for many years, as attested to by the numerous reunions that took place over the proceeding decades. Paco De Lucia was Spain's equivalent to Jimi Hendrix. And it was this album, more than anything he had done before, which really put him on the map, thus exposing a multitude of people for the first time to the genius of Flamenco, almost in the way that Carmen Amaya had some forty-years before. Yet this was the record which proved that guitars didn't need to be electric in order to be exciting. Because from this a new sense of sophistication had arisen, inspiring a whole new generation of guitarists in the process. And for that at least you have to give them credit where it's due.

Track Listing: Mediterranean Sundance/Rio Ancho; Short Tales of the Black Forest; Frevo Rasgado; Fantasia Suite; Guardian Angel

Personnel: Al Di Meola: acoustic guitar; John McLaughlin: acoustic guitar; Paco de Lucía: acoustic guitar

Title: Friday Night in San Francisco | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Columbia Records


comments powered by Disqus

More Articles

Read Heart Knows CD/LP/Track Review Heart Knows
by Dan McClenaghan
Published: September 22, 2017
Read Jersey CD/LP/Track Review Jersey
by Geno Thackara
Published: September 22, 2017
Read Wobbly Danse Flower CD/LP/Track Review Wobbly Danse Flower
by Mike Jurkovic
Published: September 22, 2017
Read Carry Fire CD/LP/Track Review Carry Fire
by Nenad Georgievski
Published: September 22, 2017
Read A Night Walking Through Mirrors CD/LP/Track Review A Night Walking Through Mirrors
by Barry Witherden
Published: September 21, 2017
Read Jondo CD/LP/Track Review Jondo
by Jack Bowers
Published: September 21, 2017
Read "Counteraction" CD/LP/Track Review Counteraction
by Roger Farbey
Published: March 20, 2017
Read "Umbrella Weather" CD/LP/Track Review Umbrella Weather
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: January 24, 2017
Read "Anybody's Spring" CD/LP/Track Review Anybody's Spring
by Geannine Reid
Published: April 2, 2017
Read "Silent Light" CD/LP/Track Review Silent Light
by Geno Thackara
Published: April 3, 2017
Read "Enter the PlusTet" CD/LP/Track Review Enter the PlusTet
by Troy Collins
Published: October 23, 2016
Read "Lost at Last" CD/LP/Track Review Lost at Last
by Geno Thackara
Published: November 10, 2016

Join the staff. Writers Wanted!

Develop a column, write album reviews, cover live shows, or conduct interviews.