Classic Rock Review

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Al Di Meola Pursuit Of Radical Rhapsody (2011)

MI0003114572From amazon.com

When I saw them in concert a couple of years ago, Di Meola’s current band struck me as being between several stools. Accordion + loud electric guitar? Heavy drums + no bass or keyboards? It was a strange sound & combination, and I felt that their new material could do with some added band members & orchestration to bring the tunes to life. “Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody” does this…and more.

I would call this an uncompromising, inventive & artistic record, coming after a five-year hiatus in Di Meola studio recordings. I will try and explain.

In common with Pat Metheny, Di Meola has done many fine records where, in addition to great instrumental skills, the music can sound like a pop or rock record in terms of its production. Call it ‘mainstream’ or ‘commercial’ if you wish. That has a plus & a downside, the plus being its great musicality (to a higher level than pop/rock guys can offer), the downside being the music or melodies can sound a little too familiar or ‘eager to please’, even if they avoid the blandness of so-called ‘smooth jazz’.

Some of Di Meola’s best records in the last 20 years have been ‘World Sinfonia’ albums, as is this one, but those records, while not ‘mainstream’, also had an easily recognisable, or ‘feel at home’, sound, due to their heavy reliance on Astor Piazzolla material. By contrast, there are no Piazzolla tunes on this album. Instead, along with two cover versions, there are 13 original compositions all of which throw a ‘curve ball’ at the listener in the sense that they feature compositional turns, improvisations & orchestrations that will not remind you of anything else.

I say this as someone who has heard all Di Meola’s albums and much else besides. If this record reminds me in any way of any other recording, it might be Chick Corea’s “Ultimate Adventure”, if only due to its very free-spirited, imaginative & open-ended approach, but I think “Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody” actually far outshines that album in terms of compositional depth and inventive, while never repetitive, musical development. There is not a single lazy moment on this album in terms of content or style.

The album is recorded, mixed & produced brilliantly. There is an equal amount of electric & acoustic guitar playing on this album, and it is strictly a pure nylon-string acoustic & clean-toned electric sound (which pleases me, for one, as Di Meola sometimes relies a little too heavily for my tastes on MIDI effects). I think this album represents the ever-growing maturity & development of Di Meola as a musician in more ways than one.

For one thing, I would consider this as the most jazzy of Di Meola’s solo albums to date and yet it is also characterised by longstanding (if not very jazzy) Di Meola styles, such as sensitive nylon string playing (evident since the mid-80s) and highly rhythmic, not exactly ‘swinging’, twists & turns involving heavy snare drums & solid-body electric guitar (evident since the mid-70s). Not until track 10 does a tune in 4-4 appear!

The combination of all three factors actually works, however, to such a degree that this is constantly a musically stimulating, challenging and at the same time warm & richly harmonic sounding record. The latter point is worth stressing, because with all these contrasting elements the music could have ended up cacophonic, which it is not, or so tight that jazz improvisations are missing, which they are not.

To conclude, I would say this is Di Meola’s best album since ‘The Grande Passion’ while in terms of its melodic content it actually outshines that album in at least one sense, namely its non-reliance on the use of a single ‘traditional’ & ‘familiar’ musical phrase, from start to finish. If the key to artistic brilliance is to create something that will never remind you of anything or anybody else, maybe one could say that Di Meola has truly realised his artistic potential with this album, which provides very fresh listening.

June 23, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Pursuit Of Radical Rhapsody | | Leave a comment