Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review: McLaughlin Di Meola Paco de Lucia Friday Night In San Francisco 2LP 45rpm ORG

(Impressive Original Recordings Group reissue spinning at 45rpm on my Rega P9)

Paco de Lucia passed away in February 2014 aged 66, victim of a heart attack. This was a very sad moment, we never want to see our idols go so soon, and Paco de Lucia was one of the most important names in Flamenco Music that he helped bring to a much wider audience, but not just that, he was an icon of sheer creativity and virtuosity for many musical quadrants ranging from Jazz to Classical Music.

For me, when I was a young teenager his name translated to something like "incredible guitar magic", and some of my fondest memories from listening to music on my father's audio system are from listening to Friday Night in San Francisco and feeling like I was right there in the audience with the performance happening live in front of me.

At the time my father had a quite impressive complete Quad 66 separates system with a pair of Quad ESL-63 electrostatic speakers fitted with huge Gradient SW-63 subwoofers and specific cross-over unit, setup in a large windowed room with an amazing view over the Tagus River in Lisbon. What could be more romantic? Quad electrostatics, Lisbon and the Tagus? All music sounded amazing on that system and with that view, but some records made such an impression that they became deeply implanted in my mind and if I close my eyes for a moment I can still relive those moments and regain that sense of "being there" with that particular sound and view, and all those emotions.

This is one of my all time favorite records, and yes I admit I've spent most of my young life listening to this incredible performance on CD. Lucky for me, there is no bad sounding version of this recording on any format, it always sounds at least very good. But there was, of course, room for improvement, and this recording considered by many to be the absolute best acoustic guitar live performance ever recorded, certainly deserves the ultimate audiophile treatment.

Paco de Lucia was there in San Francisco with legendary guitar players John McLaughlin and Al Di Meola, each of them bringing different influences up on the stage but for me this was always Lucia's night because it sounds to me like his vision infused the musical performance of the group with his particular Flamenco style in a way that makes it his own... and what a night it was! This is pure life and energy, attack and retreat, call and response, audience screams, large scale and micro detail, inventiveness and creativity together with the most unbelievable technical virtuosity, this recording is magic, pure sound illusionism for the soul.

It was described by jazz author and critic Walter Kolosky as "a musical event that could be compared to the Benny Goodman Band's performance at Carnegie Hall in 1938 ... it may be considered the most influential of all live acoustic guitar albums". All the tracks except Guardian Angel were recorded live at The Warfield Theatre on 5 December 1980, in San Francisco; Guardian Angel was recorded at Minot Sound, in White Plains, New York.

I never felt like I needed anything better than my original release CD/LP, but when this ORG reissue mastered by Bernie Grundman was announced I was extremely curious to compare it to the original releases, and the latest SACD remaster. Boy, I was in for a big surprise...

Tonality is very similar to the original mastering of the early 80's, but with massive increase of detail, resolution and transient response. I mean... the enhancement of the presence and energy of the performance is just stunning! The SACD on the other hand is much brighter, the strings actually sound different... It's still good but doesn't quite sound like the same recording. What I think is that they probably tried to pull out more mid-range detail to make it sound more open and show the guitar strings with more tonality, wich is certainly a good intention, however it seems like they really had to mess around with the EQ too much to get close to that ideal, mostly by bumping the upper mids and higher frequencies, and then probably trying to limit the top edge of that bump... so the end result is at least a little strange so I actually preferred the original CD and LP mastering that sound more natural.

The guitars flap and sting and scream running percussive driving rhythm with raw power at the edge of the recording capabilities, even the lightest engineering touch can break down the thin layered harmony between them. I'm more than happy with the recording quality, it's been leaving listeners in awe since it was first released and it still does every single time. I find that ORG's approach works wonderfully to enhance it by allowing the ferocity, incredible interplay and true nature of the performance to come through with the highest fidelity that was ever available to the public, providing breathless transient response and stunning stereo imaging to bring this historic live performance right into our homes in all its holographic glory. Basically, ORG focuses on what really matters to improve on the original!

Listening to this 45rpm double vinyl LP reissue brings back those late summer nights of the 80's with the Quad ESL-63's and the Tagus river. Nothing can replace those special moments and the feelings that listening to music like that imprinted in me and made what I am today... but let me tell you, this reissue raises the bar much higher, put it on the turntable, close the lights, crank the volume up to enjoy the full dynamics and transients, and prepare to be blown away all over again!

The night starts with a near 12 minutes medley of "Mediterranean Sundance" and "Rio Ancho" composed by Di Meola and Paco de Lucia, this was to become the most famous and recognizable part of the album, a loose and spontaneous delightful performance. This is followed by Chick Corea's well humored "Short Tales of the Black Forest" and Egberto Gismonti's "Frevo Rasgado" (a personal favorite of mine), closing with "Fantasia Suite" (Di Meola) and the final "Guardian Angel" (McLaughlin) haunting melody.

There was no better way to show our respect and pay tribute to Paco de Lucia than to reissue this recording, this night, on such high quality audiophile vinyl. I'm sure that one day, my daughter will be amazed with it, just like I was... this reissue brings back the magic and adds much more to it.

 Vinyl Gourmet Rating: Music (0-10): 10   Sound (0-10): 10   Product Value (0-10):9

Al di Meola / Paco de Lucia / John McLaughlin
Friday Night In San Francisco (1981)
2012 ORG USA Numbered Limited Edition (2500 Units Worldwide)
Catalog Number: ORG 125
Matrix Side A: ORG 125-A45   88697978081 A   Bernie Grundman   20155.1(3)
Matrix Side B: ORG 125-B45   88697978081 B   Bernie Grundman   20155.2(3)
858492002251 your Music... served right! (Audiophile Vinyl Records)

Review by Sérgio Redondo
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