Al Di Meola, John McLauglin, Paco de Lucía

Friday Night in San Francisco (Phillips '80) Rating: A+
This live summit between two fusion legends (Al Di Meola and John McLauglin) and a flamenco master (Paco de Lucía) is the rare "supersession" that lived up to all expectations and then some. Actually, the guitar playing on this instrumental album is so consistently jaw-droppingly amazing that it obliterates any and all expectations. This "unplugged" album isn't really jazz or rock (though it does rock) but is unclassifiable and is simply great music, as the mind-blowing speed and precision of the guitar duels by these virtuoso performers simply has to be heard to be believed. Even more impressive, these players complement each other and all shine equally, though I suppose that Di Meola is the central player here since three of the four live compositions are from his first three solo albums. Rather than all three playing at once, the first three songs are duets, with each guitarist playing on two tracks, whereas the fourth track and the studio track (a McLaughlin composition previously heard on Electric Dreams) feature all three guitarists playing off one another. Without getting into any details about individual songs, suffice it to say that this album is about as exciting as acoustic-based guitar music can be; the crowd is certainly into it, almost distractingly so at times, and the album on the whole is pretty much the total opposite of what the staid "MTV Unplugged" concerts would become in the 1990s. Not only do these guys display dazzling chops, but they have a sense of humor as well and all seem be having a grand old time. Don't be put off by this being an all-acoustic album, because this is the fastest, most electrifying acoustic playing one can imagine. Also, it should be acknowledged that some critics have complained that this album is all speed and flash and that it lacks soul and beauty, but they certainly aren't hearing the same album that I'm hearing. To put it succinctly, Friday Night in San Francisco is one of the greatest guitar albums ever and is the greatest acoustic guitar album I can think of. It's a must-own album for any guitar fan.

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