Meeting of the Spirits

meeting-of-the-spirits

In Greek mythology, the distinction between heroes and gods is rather thin; so too in the guitar world. The film Meeting of the Spirits makes the point. It features Larry Coryell, Paco De Lucia, and John McLaughlin in concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1979. Olympian is the appropriate adjective.

Those who associate the acoustic guitar with Peter, Paul, and Mary are in for a surprise: imagine a trio of F-22s engaged in precision maneuvers at multi-Mach speed. Coryell and De Lucia are consummate musicians, but McLaughlin, who is all but nerve-connected to the guitar, his left-hand so fast and economical that it seems not even to move, is something else entirely. During the long title cut—a version of the Mahavishnu Orchestra standard—he seems to enter a trance and channel strange melodies from beyond the realm of logic and reason.

Let me adduce two songs of staggering technique and emotion: “Lotus Feet” (song of supreme spiritual beauty) and the epic “Meeting of the Spirits” (with uncanny solo by McLaughlin). The latter clip is one of my YouTube favorites. I watch it repeatedly and obsessively as a kind of talisman against the slackness and mediocrity of daily life. Yes, there is some “fret buzz,” but this is incidental. The Venus de Milo lacks arms. Who cares?

“Lotus Feet”:

“Meeting of the Spirits”:

It’s a perpetual mystery of market failure that Meeting of the Spirits is readily availably on DVD (see Amazon) but not CD. One of my little Bill Gates fantasies is buying up the company—or the copyright—or whatever—and giving this material the deluxe packaging and remastering it deserves. I’d likewise rescue from DVD marginality Stevie Ray Vaughan Live at the El Mocambo.

Meeting of the Spirits was preamble to the McLaughlin-De Lucia-Al Di Meola collaboration captured for posterity on the classic 1980 concert album Friday Night in San Francisco. This concert is equally dazzling in terms of technique, but less soulful and deeply felt. The album contains the crowd-pleasing “Mediterranean Sundance,” which is the “Stairway to Heaven” or “Freebird” of the acoustic guitar realm.

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David Ross

Dr. David A. Ross is a graduate of Yale and Oxford. He is senior lecturer in English and Comparative Literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of A Critical Companion to William Butler Yeats (2009) and the co-editor/co-translator of The Search for the Avant-Garde, 1946­–1969 (2012), the descriptive catalogue of the Taipei Fine Arts Museum. He edits the Southeast Review of Asian Studies and has served as president of the Southeast Conference of the Association for Asian Studies. His enthusiasms include high modernism, modal jazz, Chinese ink-brush painting, and really well-made pizza.