Paco de Lucía and John McLaughlin: Paco and John: Live at Montreux (1987)

John McLaughlin has often noted that he discovered flamenco music as a teenager, even before he heard jazz; so hungry was he for exposure to the style that he snuck into flamenco pubs to try to pick up guitar tips. When he heard Paco de Lucía in 1978, McLaughlin vowed to work with the Spanish guitarist and a few years later he did, in the newly formed Guitar Trio, first with Larry Coryell and then with Al Di Meola filling out the third slot.

The 1987 Montreux duo set by de Lucía and McLaughlin-presented here on two CDs and a DVD-is a display of dazzling craftsmanship but also, and more important, of kinship. Theirs was not an onstage relationship given over to chatty repartee: The two men, bearing acoustic guitars, simply sat down and conversed via strings. The DVD is the best way to experience that affinity in action. McLaughlin leads off with a solo turn, a medley of his own “One Melody” and the standard “My Foolish Heart.” Amidst the rapid-fire runs we expect from him are broad strokes of tenderness. When de Lucía relieves him, performing “El Pañuelo” solo, our expectations are flipped; the showy dynamics endemic to flamenco are called upon sparingly.

From there on out it’s all about the exchange, the camaraderie. Chick Corea’s “Spain” provides the pair with a natural platform from which to begin their exhibition of mastery. Throughout the set-McLaughlin originals, a stirring take on Egberto Gismonti’s “Frevo”-McLaughlin quite often turns toward his stage partner, grins and then remembers he can’t just watch; he needs to be playing too. With the 2014 passing of de Lucía, this superb document becomes even more of a treasure.

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