JJ 02/81: John McLaughlin, Al Di Meola, Paco De Lucia at Royal Albert Hall, London

Forty years ago, Matthew Bateson heard little new from the acclaimed acoustic guitar trio but a lot of en­joyable music. First published in Jazz Journal February 1981

Left to right: Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin. Photo by Jean-Marc Lubrano/Verve

Presented as a sequel to the successful St. Valentine’s day special of last year, this acoustic guitar concert, featuring two of the most popular jazz-rock performers and the flamenco wizardry of Paco De Lucia, provided few surprises, but a lot of en­joyable music. Each musician played solo, in duet, and as part of a final trio.

The solo sets were the most provocative and revealing, with De Lucia, who opened the proceedings, being the outstanding performer. Playing in the finger style, he com­bined technical mastery, passion and rigorous self-discipline to produce music of truly ravishing splendour.

Unfortunate­ly, the same can not be said of Al Di Meola. His solo set, in which he paraded his technical facility with wearisome vulgarity, was one long and structureless amalgam of crudely connected passages. Quotes from his past albums were jux­taposed with a section of transcribed Bach and endlessly stuttering, brittle scale runs; the result merely proved him to be one of that rare breed of musicians who make vir­tuosity seem like a severe handicap.

By way of contrast, McLaughlin played a very relaxed and introspective tribute to the late Bill Evans, My Foolish Heart, on which his rich chording and sparse lead lines provid­ed a welcome respite in an evening of other­wise overheated exuberance.

The subsequent duet and trio perfor­mances – often fascinating in the hybrid of diverse styles that emerged – contained some memorable passages: McLaughlin and De Lucia dovetailing with devious dexterity on a piece by Egberto Gismonti; McLaughlin and Di Meola playfully ex­changing fleet-fingered phrases and wittily quoting from unlikely sources.

Of the three guitarists, it was McLaughlin who was the most impressive. Perhaps as a result of his sojourn with his Indian ensemble, Shakti, he has become a very mature and inventive soloist. There are few other guitarists with such a mastery of dynamics and tone colour.