Classic Rock Review

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Al Di Meola Land Of The Midnight Sun (1976)


In 1976, 22 year-old guitar wunderkind Al Di Meola rleased his first solo album. LAND OF THE MIDNIGHT SUN was an impressive effort for the young Di Meola, and remains a very satisfying work of vintage fusion.
As a member of Chick Corea’s highly popular and trailblazing Return to Forever, Berklee grad Di Meola had no problem attracting a stellar cast of musicians to join him in the studio. Bassists on the album are fretless pioneer nonpareil Jaco Pastorius (Weather Report), plus Di Meola’s RTF band mate, the great Stanley Clarke — at the time the only fusion bassist able to rank with Pastorius for fame and influence.

Further bass duties are ably fulfilled by highly-sought session man Anthony Jackson, who’d played on a host of major pop, rock and jazz recordings, and is credited with inventing the six-string electric bass. On keyboards are the virtuoso Chick Corea himself, as well as one Barry Miles. Miles was a former child prodigy who’d been a dues-paying professional musician from the tender age of nine, and a jazz veteran by the time he cut his first solo album at fourteen. Miles has been labeled “the founder of fusion” owing to his experimental, multi genre- blending 1964-65 work with what he then dubbed “syncretic music.” (He still works with Di Meola, and appears on the guitarist’s 2006 CD CONSEQUENCE OF CHAOS.)

On drums, meanwhile, are three heavyweights: The first is none less than Steve Gadd, a former US Army drummer who at eleven had sat in for a set with Dizzy Gillespie. Seasoned sessioneer Gadd could command top dollar from stars such as Eric Clapton, Simon and Garfunkel, Paul McCartney, Steely Dan, B.B. King, James Brown, James Taylor, George Benson and Chuck Mangione ? indeed, anyone who could afford his rate. (Di Meola’s budget has Gadd on one track here, the up-tempo opener “The Wizard.”)

The second drummer is jazzman Lenny White, Di Meola’s Return to Forever cohort, who’d played on Miles Davis’ landmark BITCHES BREW. No slouch on the skins, White’s résumé rivals Gadd’s ? he’s worked with major musical names like Joe Henderson, Woodie Shaw, Freddie Hubbard, Gato Barbieri, Jaco Pastorius, Marcus Miller and Stan Getz — perhaps you’ve heard of some of them? (White appears on my favourite piece here, the epic title track.) The album’s final drummer is Alphonse Mouzon, who was at the time a veteran of guitarist Larry Coryell’s fusion outfit Eleventh House. Mouzon’s Wikipedia entry identifies him as a former drama, music and medical student, an actor/composer/arranger/producer, and the current chairman/CEO of Tenacious Records.

Besides Coryell, he’s worked with (brace yourself): Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Lee Ritenour, Freddie Hubbard, McCoy Tyner, Stevie Wonder, Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Carlos Santana, Chubby Checker, Patrick Moraz and Tommy Bolin, and been a member of Weather Report. Whew! A certain Robert Plant named Mouzon as one of Zeppelin’s major influences — did I mention that Mouzon acts in Hollywood movies, too? Under-achiever Alphonse keeps the beat(s) on what is perhaps the proggiest selection here, the near-ten-minute, three-part “Suite Golden Dawn.” (“Golden Dawn” also features Jaco, busily bubbling and funking unmistakably away on his fretless).

Finally, sometime keyboardist, composer and percussionist extraordinaire Mingo Lewis (who’s also played with bloody everyone, from Return to Forever, to John Mclaughlin, Santana, The Tubes, Todd Rundgren, XTC, Eno & Byrne, to blah blah blah blah blah) provides bongos, congas (likely, everything but gazongas) on four of MIDNIGHT SUN’s six cuts.

So, you ask, What’s the music like? It’s great, of course! Latin-infused fusion with oodles of Di Meola’s trademark lightning-fast, percussive picking predominates, but there’s even a brief bit o’ Bach — an acoustic offering to further showcase Al’s expansive range. Standout tracks include the aforementioned, Lewis-penned “The Wizard,” plus Al’s acoustic guitar and piano duet with Corea on “Short Tales of the Black Forest.” My favourite, though, has to be the uplifting and engagingly varied title track, a Di Meola composition on which Al, Mingo and Mr. Miles especially shine.

Land Of The Midnight Sun is about as polished, varied and downright enjoyable a slice of classic jazz fusion as you’ll find. Al Di Meola has been voted by Guitar Player’s readers as “best jazz guitarist” no less than four times, and guitar historian Robert Lynch has said: “In the history of the electric guitar, no one figure has done more to advance the instrument in a purely technical manner than Mr. Di Meola.” (Wikipedia) Listening to Land Of The Midnight Sun, you can discover what all the well-deserved praise for Al Di Meola is about.

March 16, 2013 - Posted by | Al Di Meola Land Of The Midnight Sun |

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