JJ 04/79: John McLaughlin / Paco De Lucia / Larry Coryell – Valentine’s Day Special, Royal Albert Hall

First published Jazz Journal, April 1979


Any feelings that the combination of Spanish classical flamenco with the less disciplined jazz styles of McLaughlin & Coryell might, to some degree, be incompatible, were totally swept away in this extraordinary Valentine’s day acoustic guitar concert at the Royal Albert Hall.

The only division of any nature lay within the audience itself. The hall was filled to about three quarters capacity and, so it seemed to me, dominated by aficionados of De Lucia. All three guitarists took solo spots; Coryell opened the proceedings with two pieces, most notably ‘The Spiritual Dance’ by L. Subramiam, creating a delicate Indian intonation on a conventional acoustic guitar. De Lucia’s solo recital, however, surpassed the former’s, featuring compositions for which he is justly famous with a stunning combination of technique, subtlety and discipline – quite phenomenal.

I felt it would surely be impossible for anyone to follow such a magnificent display, yet McLaughlin managed to. He produced a most varied and enjoyable set. He played three pieces, the first by Corea – integrating phrases from his previous albums, which produced cheers of acknowledgement from his adherents. He sensitively played the old standard ‘My Foolish Heart’, and finally gave a beautiful rendition of Mingus’ ‘Goodbye Pork Pie Hat’ a fitting tribute to that late, great musician. He produced a remarkable variety of sounds from his instrument: glissandis, harmonics, beautiful subtle chording, blues inflection, dazzling improvised fleet fingered phrases and the bending of notes in a manner evident on his Shakti albums. It was a fine display of controlled virtuosity.

The Duo pieces continued this exceptional level of accomplishment, the most notable being a tour-de-force from Coryell and De Lucia on ‘Mediterranean Sun Dance’. When it came to the climax – the trio pieces – the results surpassed even the highest expectations. They played three compositions including a version of McLaughlin’s ‘Meeting of the Spirits’ with extended solo space for each of the players. McLaughlin’s solo led into a series of call/response duets which produced astonishing interplays between these three virtuosos, who clearly enjoyed playing together enormously.

They received a standing ovation, and quite deservedly so, for only occasionally did one get a sense of ego battling between them – when technique took over from content. All in all it was a truly memorable event. For those who missed it – don’t worry – cameras were there to film it and we will no doubt be able to see at least part of it on the box in the near future.
Matthew Bateson