Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Review: Friday Night in San Francisco

I felt like reviewing my record collection so I'll post stuff like this intermittently.

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Friday Night in San Francisco (1981)

Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia

Flamenco dancers call it the duende, the spirit that moves artists to give a performance that surpasses the norm. Unlike a muse -- which acts on creative inspiration -- the duende turns an artist into a conduit for the purest performance direct from Plato's world of forms.

It seems to have possessed three already amazing guitarists into giving a live concert that, fortunately for us, had been recorded and released. “Friday Night is San Francisco” with Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Paco De Lucia predates the more popular “G3” by more than a decade but still sounds as fresh as the night it was recorded. The reviews as well as the liner notes constantly refer to the magic quality of that performance that was never repeated again, not even the following night.

And it really was magic.

A friend heard it being played at Tower Records and immediately bought a copy, which I borrowed and kept until he asked for it back. This was the late nineties, when we had no CD burners and tape recorders were becoming scarce.

There was something in the performance, a quality that separates it from being run of the mill. And that's a tall order given that the performers were better than average in the first place (to say the least). It opens with Di Meola's Mediterranean Sundance which segues into De Lucia's Rio Ancho. Immediately following is Chick Corea's Short Tales of the Black Forest rearranged for guitar and highlighted by a shoot out in the middle that has the performers trading musical punchlines, sampling Mancini's Pink Panther Theme, and playing a minute or so of classic 12-bar blues.

Frevo Rasgado is a smoother piece that takes us to more familiar jazz territory while the last song Guardian Angel (recorded elsewhere) sounds decidedly more classical. But it was in Fantasia Suite for Two Guitars (rearranged for three) that the duende really manifests. The song featured blistering shredding the likes of which I personally haven't heard outside of progressive rock. The fact that they were doing this on classical guitars just blew my mind. The audience's howls of appreciation (heard in the background throughout the recording) just break my heart, making me wish I'd been there.

Which is what every live album should aspire to do.

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