The Great Album Series

Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia - Friday Night in San Francisco

Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia
Fiday Night in San Francisco
Columbia/ Legacy (1981)
Jazz, Live Recording, Acoustic, Virtuoso, flamenco

Last week I was talking about certain rules I'd try to abide when writing this column.  1. No Greatest hits.  2. No E.P.'s (a rule I immediately broke in the very same column with Dear M.F.) and 3. No Live albums.  Today I break #3.  The exception to the rule is Friday Night in San Francisco.  
By 1979 John McLaughlin was already a big name in Jazz/ fusion.  He spent the early 70's playing with Miles Davis' seminal fusion band, changing the face of jazz on albums like Bitches Brew, and On the Corner.  During the same period,  he was leading his own highly influencial band, The Mahavishnu Orchestra.  In the late 70's he began focusing more on acoustic guitar, playing with Shakti, and band that mixed jazz/fusion with traditional indian music.  In 1979, he toured Europe with flamenco guitarist Paco De Lucia, and jazz guitarist Larry Coryell.  When the tour was slated for America, the record label considered Coryell to be too unknown, and had him replaced with Al Di Meola.  Di Meola had also left a considerable mark on the genre of jazz/fusion, playing in Chick Corea's band Return to Forever.  Friday Night in San Francisco is a high energy recording.  What excites me about this album is two things; one, the audience is excited and extremely appreciative,  you'd think they were at a rock show.  And two, the players are excited and at the top of their game, the give and take in the solos, the audible laughs, these are 3 equally skilled players at their finest.

Track one features Paco De Lucia and Al Di Meola playing their compositions Mediterranean Sundance/ Rio Ancho.  The two trade the melody, with short, fast bursts of notes.  Di Meola takes a solo just before the 2 minute mark that sets the tone for the whole album.  A flurry of notes that ends on the open low E string.  An audience member hoots, followed by others, and the energy level rises.  Check out the link above for a video recording of the song.

My favorite track on the album comes next, McLaughlin and Di Meola's rendition of Chick Corea's Short Tales of the Black Forest.  This song is all showmanship.  Di Meola and McLaughlin are constantly challenging each other on this track, pushing each other to new levels.  The best moments on the album come in this track, the two trade musical jokes; fret noises, sporatic blues riffs, and a brilliant Pink Panther quote at the  4 minute mark.  The crowd eats it up.  The short blues jam 5 minutes in, couldn't be more perfect, feature one of the greatest blues riffs I've ever heard (6:06), played by Al Di Meola.  I've linked a great version above, (not the album version, unfortunatly).  

Paco De Lucia dominates the very flamenco Frevo Rasgado.  I'm constantly amazed at the tones these players can get from an acoustic guitar, they create a whole world of sounds.  The two guitarists trading riffs at the 5 minute mark is a definite highlight, only topped by the frantic ending.  Check the link for a live performance of the two playing Frevo. 

All three performers take the stage for Al Di Meola's Fantasia Suite.  This song features some  beautiful, dream like passages that 3 minutes in, turn into a uplifting melody played by two guitars.  What comes next is a series of solo's by all three players, trading at first two phrases than 1, than 2 bars, than 1, until all three are soloing, and the crowd is getting frantic.  The two guitar melody comes back, ending the song with a bang.  

The album closes with the only studio track, a three guitar take on John McLaughlin's Gaurdian Angel.  Although it's a nice piece, it's probably the weakest track on the album, and only because it's missing the audience.  Linked, is a version of the song with original member of the trio, Larry Coryell.

The trio went on to record 2 albums together, 1983's Passion Grace and Fire, and Guitar Trio in 1996.  The albums couldn't possibly catch the excitement and energy created in Friday Night in San Francisco, and I think that might have to do with of the audience.  A good audience can bring the level of energy up on stage considerably, and that night in San Francisco's Warfield theatre, everybody was at the top of their game.       

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