Friday Favorites 2/28/2014
Forty years ago, my love of acoustic guitars reflected my favorite musical groups, bands like the Eagles which featured acoustic guitar accompaniment as well as electric and of a generation of singer-songwriters like James Taylor. My tastes in jazz ran to horn- or piano-driven ensembles, although Wes Montgomery and Charlie Byrd were certainly on my musical radar. But in the the late seventies, a confluence of musical styles, from World Music and what would come to be called New Age Music, along with something called smooth jazz, began to promote acoustic guitars as lead instruments. Rock musicians like Craig Chaquico and Peter White began to record jazz instrumentals featuring acoustic guitars and jazz artists known for their electric guitar artistry, like Al Di Meola, began to play acoustic and gravitate toward smooth jazz or World Music. World and New Age Music brought flamenco guitar into popular recordings in the form of neuvo flamenco, which featured flamenco-style guitar in less traditional settings like jazz, salsa and rock. I was lucky enough to be around for the ride.
In 1981, I bought a just-released album titled Friday Night in San Francisco featuring three acoustic guitar virtuosos, Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia. I knew Di Meola from his work with Chick Corea’s band, Return to Forever and McLaughlin from an album he recorded with Carlos Santana, but I hadn’t heard of de Lucia, who turns out to be one of the world’s greatest flamenco guitarists. The recording consisted of five fairly long tracks, each featuring two or three of the guitarists (Paco De Lucia played on all tracks). The album created a sensation and is considered one of the most influential of all live acoustic guitar albums. The playing is simply astounding, both artistically and technically. The first track, Mediterranean Sundance, played by Di Meola and De Lucia on the recording can be found on YouTube:
Paco De Lucia, on the left in the video, passed away at 66 on Wednesday from a heart attack while vacationing in Mexico with his family. According The New York Times, Mr. de Lucía was renowned for the intensity of his concentration and for the way he had pushed flamenco’s traditional roots both backward and forward. Mr. de Lucía’s virtuosity was grounded in age-old flamenco techniques: hard-edge strumming, breakneck runs with every note sharply articulated, a touch that could be feathery or imperious, suspenseful phrasing and, most of all, a volatile sense of dynamics and drama. He opened flamenco’s traditional boundaries to rhythms, harmonies and instruments from the wider world. Even when he was playing a tango, using jazz chords or backed by an electric bass, his music remained unmistakably and authoritatively flamenco. So, among other things, I owe my love of flamenco to Paco De Lucia. This video is perhaps De Lucia’s best known piece in his home country of Spain, a rumba titled Entre dos Aquas.
Rest in peace, Paco.