Al DiMeola, John McLaughlin, Paco DeLuca – Friday Night in San Francisco – [TrackList follows] Columbia /Original Recordings Group ORG 125 (2 45 rpm audiophile vinyls) *****:
The notes with the SACD stereo-only release of this on Columbia Legacy opens with the quote that “Once in a blue moon, everything clicks.” It’s unfortunate that no notes are including with the vinyl reissue set, but that certainly was the case on the evening of December 5th, 1980 at the Warfield Theater in San Francisco. I was there and can testify that it was the most exciting guitar concert I have ever heard. It was an unusual setup, with just three acoustic guitarists and nothing else. This far predated the MTV “Unplugged” series, and the audience obviously went wild during all the selections. They also rolled the tapes the following night at the Warfield but the results just weren’t quite the same.
The initial selection is a two-tune medley, and there are four tracks with just one guitarist on the left channel and the other on the right.  It is not until the final two tracks that you get to hear all three guitarists right across the soundstage. They must have recorded the final track in the studio later, because there is absolutely no audience sounds and it ends quite suddenly with a real finish.
Whether on the SACD or this 45 rpm vinyl (forget the CD reissue) the concert is absolutely jaw-dropping. The non-stop friendly guitar dueling starts with the very first track and only lets up briefly for breathing space during some of the other tracks. All three guitarists throw off machine-gun fast runs up and down the strings that have the audience going crazy at times. The tunes are originals by members of the trio as well as one by Chick Corea and another by Egberto Gismonti. One the final two tracks it becomes a three-way dueling battle. John McLaughlin is dead center in the phantom center channel for his solos on his own tune which closes things out—Guardian Angel. It was certainly a very great night and is beautifully preserved on these recordings.
Now between the SACD and these very expensive 45 rpm vinyls: The 45 rpm vinyl format is undoubtedly the ultimate in stereo audio quality today (with possible competition from the perfectly-set-up few Tape Project open reels). But you’ll need a very high end turnable and phono preamp setup to appreciate the very slight enhancement over the excellent SACD (at least on my Oppo BDP-95 deck). With extended listening I can discerne a slightly more analog richness in the 45 rpm vinyl—a little more of the natural tone of the strings, without overmuch “bite” delivered by the SACD. Strangely, the 1999 stereo-only SACD is no longer available at Acoustic Sounds and Amazon lists it for a ridiculous $179, so this 45 rpm set is the only way now to appreciate this fantastic acoustic guitar evening. (The Amazon link goes to only the standard CD version since that’s all they currently offer—a great sonic loss.)
TrackList:
Mediterranean Sundance/Rio Ancho, Short Tales of the Black Forest, Frevo Rsgado, Rantasia Suite, Guardian Angel
—John Sunier