For roughly the the past decade, Steve Vai and Joe Satriani pick up some guitarist with blazing fast electric guitar skills, and they go around touring as “G3” in front of adoring fans. I’ve never seen the tour, nor been particularly inclined to, but it’s not hard to imagine that they got the idea for G3 from this album. Friday Night in San Francisco is the 1980 release of Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, and Paco DeLucia. It’s (mostly) a live album, and it features nothing more than 3 of the world’s greatest guitarists playing an unmatchable acoustic set in front of an enthusiastic audience.
All three guitarists, especially DiMeola have a reputation for being highly skilled, technique-oriented clinicians. DiMeola himself has said that, in the studio, he personally writes out all the musical parts for himself and for each of his complementary performers. This is no small task, given the speed and duration of the music–a lot of little black dots to appear. Nonetheless, this album is as loose and spontaneous and enjoyable as you’ll find any of these greats, and, with such unmatched skill on their instruments, it’s an inimitably dynamic and brilliant performance.
For the record, if you’re going to pick it up, it’s worthwhile listening to this on a good pair of headphones, as it’s more than worthwhile being able to distinguish one guitarist from the other.
The opening track, a duet between DiMeola and DeLucia, is a medley beginning and ending with DiMeola’s “Mediterranean Sundance”, and DeLucia’s “Rio Ancho” serving as an excellent bridge. DiMeola begins the playing with some extended, rapid-fire arpeggios, with DeLucia accenting them warmly. DiMeola is well known for his blazing-fast, muted scales, and fans of this maneuver don’t have long to wait for them. After spitting the arpeggios out and moving into a meatier, melodic portion of the song, DiMeola machine guns the high-end of the neck before letting the riff spin out wildly and fall back into the melody. It’s a dazzling maneuver, and one that few guitarists in the world can pull off.
Meanwhile, during DiMeola’s guitar heroics, DeLucia is humbly taking the backseat, giving tone and structure to his playing partner’s soloing for the first 3 minutes of the 11 minute track. After that, DeLucia bridges the song into his Rio Ancho and shows the audience that DiMeola is not alone in having fire in his fingers. DiMeola moves out of the spotlight well, playing rhythm guitar and a rapid clip and elevating his playing to accentuate the drama of DeLucia’s solos.
The song builds for nine minutes when DeLucia and DiMeola starting dueling, trading licks at lightning paces before the whole song collapses back into the original melody, unheard since the 2 minute mark and flying, breathlessly, to the finish.
The next track is a Chick Corea creation, “Short Tales of the Black Forest”, this time with John McLaughlin (of Miles Davis fame) joining DiMeola, and DeLucia taking a breather. They start things off with quick, short, and ominous exchanges. These low, tense exchanges grow dramatically in their intensity and speed before dropping out three and one-half minutes in, when a couple of short licks give way to some fun–guitar slapping, running picks down the strings, and surprising pauses–and then morph into slow, down-and-dirty blues. The blues turn into The Pink Panther Theme, and back into the 12-bar blues that every high school guitarist knows by rote. The complexity of the blues grows, first into a delta blues sort of sound, with DiMeola’s chops taking the forefront again. Yet again, the music comes nearly to a stop, McLaughlin and DiMeola controlling tempo whimsically, before John and Al fly to the finish with almost synchopated strumming.
The centerpiece of the of the album is DiMeola’s “Fantasia Suite”, where all three performers play together for the first time. On the original recording, DiMeola overdubs his own playing with a lot of percussion, and one more guitar. Here, DiMeola starts things off with the familiar riffage, but instead of castanets, he’s joined by the accents and doublings of McLaughlin and DeLucia. The effect is a tremendous, triumphant piece of music. The song ends the live portion of the album, the only remainder being McLaughlin’s more subdued “Guardian Angel”.
The piece is certainly less warm than the live recordings, and the studio seems to give their guitars a bit of a drier sound, but it’s a lovely track, and perfectly suited for all three to show off their abilities. A fine closer for a gorgeous, impressive album.