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John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, Paco DeLucia: Passion, Grace and Fire

C. Andrew Hovan By

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Although they are primarily known for their gold CD reissue program and multi-channel SACDs, the Audio Fidelity firm has recently plunged into the vinyl market with a small number of titles. These limited edition 180 gram pressings are remastered by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio and packaged in glossy gatefold covers. Tapping into some music not usually associated with audiophile editions, Audio Fidelity's most recent batch of releases wisely includes the superlative 1982 release Passion, Grace, and Fire by guitar wizards John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, and Paco De Lucia.

Recorded as a follow-up to their highly-touted Friday Night in San Francisco, the trio's studio affair is often considered the superior of the two dates even as it clocks in at just a tad past half an hour. Full of the three superlatives that give the album its name, this is an inspired trio of guitar gods coming together for the common purpose of creating genre-defining music of lasting value. Each guitarist contributes two original compositions and their unique personalities shine through the written structures that provide the platform to further improvisation.

McLaughlin's "Aspan" opens the program with sixteenth note flourishes and percussive fist knocks on the guitar body lending a solid weight and bottom end to the overall sound. An expansive stereo spread puts McLaughlin dead center, with Di Meola to the left and De Lucia to the right. The dynamic presentation and a dead quiet pressing even allows one to distinguish between Di Meola's steel strings and McLaughlin's and De Lucia's nylon strings.

Gentle shifting meters and handclaps trade off with bristling runs over the course of Di Meola's three-part "Orient Blues Suite." His other original, the title track, establishes a piquant ebb and flow and includes a shrewd reggae element. De Lucia also calls on world music elements for his pieces. "Chiquito" touches on the odd meter influences of the Indian culture mixed with his own flamenco leanings, while "Sichia" puts rhythmic diversity at the forefront with the three guitarists occupying what seems like a three dimensional musical space.

While the source of the pressing was not part of the packaging or promotional materials, the disc itself was found to be perfectly flat and free of any marks or defects. On the turntable, I was pleasantly surprised by the rich, full sound and expansive soundstage. There was black silence in the spaces between notes and nary a pop or tick to be heard. Overall, I found this to be a very impressive reissue of a title that deserves to be a staple of any inclusive collection.

Associated equipment used for evaluation

VPI Scout 1.1 turntable with Clearaudio Virtuoso V.2 Ebony cartridge
Musical Fidelity A3CR amplifier and preamp
Sutherland Insight phono preamp
Bryston BCD-1 CD player
Bowers & Wilkins Nautilus 805 loudspeakers
Cardas cable and interconnects, Chang Lightspeed power conditioner

Track Listing: Aspan; Orient Blue Suite; Chiquito; Sichia; David; Passion, Grace, and Fire.

Personnel: John McLaughlin: guitar; Al Di Meola: guitar; Paco DeLucia: guitar.

Title: Passion, Grace and Fire | Year Released: 2017 | Record Label: Audio Fidelity

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