About a week ago, I saw Rodrigo Y Gabriela in concert, a flamenco-esque band. After an amazing set, for the encore, they brought out a third guitarist who looked eerily like my professor from last semester. Later I found out it was Alex Skolnick of the metal band Testament. And the three sat there and jammed to Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. It started slow, but once the band got into the groove, it was an impressive performance. As I stood there watching the three of them feeling each other out, I was reminded of a CD I had picked up a little before winter break, a live CD recorded at the San Francisco’s Warfield. Three guitarists, John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, and a relatively unknown flamenco guitarist (unknown to the fusion fans that went to the show) named Paco De Lucia, decided to tour the nation and play fusion/flamenco music. And the result was captured on this fine CD, Friday Night In San Francisco.
The first song, “Mediterranean Sun Dance/Rio Ancho” features Paco De Lucia and Al Di Meola. It starts with a lonely guitar line, repeated, slowly building up into fantastic display of both guitarist’s ability. Each run up the fretboard is greeted with an enthusiastic reply by the audience. The chords are punched hard on the acoustic guitars, which is one of my favorite aspects of the flamenco style. At times the two would return to a theme, a nice little dancing ditty. Then they would trade off solos, while the one not soloing would take rhythm guitar would play a nice line to keep the song moving as the soloist would show off his chops. One reason the guitarists chose to make a CD out of their performance at the Warfield was the interaction with the crowd. The audience is extremely receptive, cheering at times like they were at a football game rather than a acoustic show.
The chemistry that the guitarists had shows very plainly in the second song, “Short Tales of the Black Forest,” which features John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola. The two of them were clearly having fun out there, playing as fast as they could. At one point in the song, they just play little tunes, one of which is the Pink Panther theme, driving the crowd wild. Unfortunately, this song shows one of the shortcomings of this album. The musicianship of these three guitarists at times becomes too much for them to handle, and the song gets lost in the process.
I still have trouble describing long tracks of only acoustic guitar. I don’t want to throw around musical terms that I’ve half forgotten and only partially know how to pick out of a song. Just listening to this CD though, I am amazed that these guys had only been working together for months if not weeks before coming out to tour. There are little moments of magic sprinkled throughout the tracks, such as the theme or “riff” (I don’t know) that McLaughlin and Di Meola continue to return to in “Frevo Rasgado.”
However, something I’m sure the whole crowd was waiting for, I certainly was, was a collaboration between all three guitarists at once. That doesn’t take place until the final song, “Guardian Angel.” A three way improvisation is very tough to pull off, perhaps it is too much. They start off slow, feeling each other out, while still maintaining a very luscious melody. One gets more ambitious and begins soloing, then the next. While not as exciting as the first track, “Guardian Angel” is still a very good song. Strangely, the previously vocal audience cannot be heard at the end of the song, leaving the listener in a sort of silent reverie as this fantastic performance comes to an end.
This collaboration introduced Paco De Lucia to a new audience, and further asserted John McLaughlin’s and Al Di Meola’s ability to make some great music. Unfortunately, the trio was never able to repeat this performance, even after going on a second tour. Therefore the chemistry, the crowd, and the music will remain contained in this CD, a great documentation of what can be done with the acoustic guitar.