Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucia – Saturday Night In San Francisco

Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, Paco De Lucía – Saturday Night in San Francisco

Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucía’s innovative Friday Night in San Francisco was recorded at the Warfield Theater, with the exception of one track, on 5th December 1980. Released in April the following year, the album has gone on to sell several million copies, and the counting has not finished yet. Since its release it has attained legendary status, and rightly so, capturing a truly inspirational, tour-de-force performance from three guitar virtuosos. Friday Night in San Francisco brought together Latin, Flamenco and Jazz into an ‘unplugged’ setting, well before such events were fashionable, and with just three acoustic guitars, Messrs Di Meola, McLaughlin and De Lucía performed a masterclass of flamboyant improvisation. Scintillating and breath-taking displays of technique held together with a true sense of musicality.

My only quibble was that the original album was a little over forty-minutes in duration, culled from a two-hour concert, so there was always a glimmer of hope that more music might one day surface. Well that’s as maybe, but quite unexpectedly earlier this year I got wind of the release of the Saturday, and final evening’s, performance.

And here we are. So why the 40 year gap?

Well, although both concerts were recorded, it was only during the COVID-19 lockdown that Al Di Meola unearthed the original 16-track live session tapes from the Saturday performance. He then had the tapes ‘baked’ and fully restored, mixed and edited by engineer Katsu Natto, with final mastering by Thorsten Wyk, all with the premise of recreating the magic of the Friday night release. Commenting on the Saturday night’s performance, Al Di Meola said, “It’s exciting because the audience was right there with us, savouring every single note of music. And, we were ripping. It was crazy good!”

The two Warfield Theater performances were the culmination of a lengthy two-month tour and sees the trio perfectly honed and absolutely on fire. The album opens with an introduction from Bill Graham, the concert’s promoter, who explains the format for the evening, with the first half of the concert featuring solo and duo performances and after the interval ensemble playing from the trio. As with the Friday Night album, not all the tracks are featured and they are not chronologically represented, so following Graham’s intro we have Al Di Meloa’s Splendido Sundance, which in the original two-hour concert appeared toward the end of the evening. An excellent choice as not only is it a wonderfully dynamic and melodic piece of music, it also features all three players.

Barring a thirty-second teaser there has not be a taster track released from the album, so here is the full Saturday concert. The film quality and audio are not brilliant…

[Please note: this is NOT the audio quality of the album]

The liner notes offer an interesting insight into the competitive camaraderie that had grown between the trio as the tour had progressed, and although the respect between the three was unwavering, there was a tangible empathy, along with an intrinsic level of virtuosic showmanship, with each of the musicians imploring the others to take up the challenge. Al Di Meola acknowledges that the audience had ‘worked out’ that the three guitarist were playing too, and for each other, something they cottoned on too, spurring on the performers to more dizzying heights.

And on that note, and prior to this review, I made the conscious decision not to delve into the intricacies of music, as barring the three performers themselves, I doubt there’s many who could comprehend what was happening (which very much includes me). So following Splendido Sundance we have three wonderfully contrasting and inspired solo performances.

Unlike the Friday Night album which only included one ‘trio’ track from the Warfield concert, this new disc continues with three tracks featuring all three musicians. Paco De Lucia’s El Pañuelo contains some of the playfulness which made the first album so engaging. John McLaughlin’s Meeting of the Spirits is greeted with a rousing roar and receives an extended workout, and the disc concludes with the rather restful Luiz Bonifá composition Orpheo Negro.

Worthy of mention is that all the tracks are unique to this release, so there’s no repetition of tunes from the Friday Night album.

A rare commodity but the sequel is equal to the original… Now all we need is a third and possibly fourth part… The Missing Tracks 😉

Update: My ‘tongue in cheek’ remark has caused some confusion. So to clarify – there are NO missing tracks.

I had everything! Spain was not up to par so it was my decision to keep it off and Black Orpheus will appear on the SACD and the Vinyl 45 due out in Dec 2023. Basically the set of both nights included each night all of what’s on Friday Night and Saturday.

Both albums together represent a whole show! We pulled these SNISF of the songs that we couldn’t fit on Friday night since then it would have been a double record which the record company then declined to have out. So I had these tapes for 42 years that I tried 3 or 4 times to release with some resistance but in the end John and Pacos family were blown away excited… Al Di Meola

“It was crazy good!” – It certainly was! It certainly is!

01. Bill Graham Introduction (0:30)
02. Splendido Sundance (7:09)
03. One Word (5:44)
04. Trilogy Suite (6:27)
05. Monasterio De Sal (5:09)
06. El Pañuelo (8:03)
07. Meeting Of The Spirits (13:35)
08. Orpheo Negro (4:06)

Total Time – 49:43

Al Di Meola – Acoustic Steel Strung Guitar
John McLaughlin – Acoustic Nylon Strung Guitar
Paco De Lucia – Spanish Guitar

Record Label: earMusic
Catalogue#: IMXSA8324
Date of Recording: 6th December 1980
Date of Release: 29th July 2022

Al Di Meola – Website | Facebook | Twitter
John McLaughlin – Website | Facebook | Twitter
Paco de Lucía – Website