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

Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy (1977)

Al Di Meola - Elegant GypsyFrom amazon.com

Review The Hendrix of Jazz. This is what I have heard people call Al Di Meola. I never had to question why especially after hearing this album. I can name a ton of guitar players with great albums but I would prefer to listen to this album over all of those any second of any day.

This is coming from somebody who loves only sophisticated guitar work and cant stand any of that 4 chord crap that passes off for music today. I’m a huge fan of John Mclaughlin, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, B.B. King, Eric Clapton, Wes Montgomery, Jimmy Page, Richie Blackmore, Rick Emmett, George Benson, Alex Lifeson, Buddy Guy, David Gilmour, Robert Fripp, an many others. But none of those dudes can brag about having a guitar album like this one from Al Di Meola.

“Flight to Rio” Is just as important a track for Jan Hammer as for Al di Meola. Hammers contributions to this album are quite big but on this track his contributions are nothing short of enormous and help set the mood for the album.

“Midnight Tango” continues the electric Latino guitar style of track 1 before the album turns a bit more acoustic.

“Mediterranean Sundance” is an acoustic Latin Fusion number where Paco de Lucia comes in and plays twin lead with Al di Meola. This is one of those tracks that blew me away the most the first time I heard it. Years before they would both join with Mahavishnu John McLaughlin to record one of the most awesome acoustic records ever.

“Race with Devil on Spanish Highway” is an incredibly intense going back to electric driven track with di Meolas band mate Lenny White wrecking some serious havoc on drums. Absolutely an underrated and gifted drummer. Anthony Jackson, a bass player I have not heard much of really blasts his bass guitar on this one causing me to want to research more albums he might play on.

“Lady of Rome, Sister of Brazil” despite being really short is the most beautiful track on the album.

“Elegant Gypsy Suite” is the highlight and the reason why the album had to be named after the title track! This is the only way a great album should end. One of the greatest guitar showcases of all time.

This is it! The ultimate guitar album. I cant say why in words it just is. And it took only one listen to believe it. You wont understand until you listen to it also like I was recommended to. Than you will believe!!!

Review I’m quite new to Al Di Meola, but I’m a seasoned instrumental guitar fan. I had read on Wikipedia that Petrucci was self taught by trying to emulate the sounds of various guitarists like Malmsteen, Holdsworth and Di Meola. I figured, Holdsworth and Malmsteen are pretty big names, so to throw Di Meola in must mean something, because Petrucci after all is… well, we all know what he is capable of. I looked on Amazon.com for Di Meola albums, and Elegant Gypsy looked to the best, based solely on reviews, so I checked it out.

This CD is so incredibly monstrous, that words have a hard describing all the features it encapsulates. Di Meolas finely honed technical ability coupled with interesting tunes and beats make for a superb album. I find that this album sounds quite unlike any other instrumental guitar CD I have ever heard.

This CD was unleashed in 1976, before massively technical playing was popularized by Yngwie. This is one of the reasons I find Di Meola so special. I have never been more impressed with a 30 year old album that sounds like it could have been released just yesterday. It doesn’t have the outdated 80’s sound that neoclassical shred has picked up.

Im not sure whether to call Di Meola a shred guitarist, I don’t really think he is. He obviously has the ability to shred with the best of them, but he tames it and keeps it under control (Yes, that’s a good thing).

Now for the actual songs on the album. There are two that really stand out in my mind. Like everybody else, Race with Devil on Spanish Highway, is a superb demonstration of Di Meola’s primo technical astuteness coupled with some awe-inspiring song writing. The song just sounds really good, any way you look at it.

The other song which I am also very fond of is Mediterranean Sundance. It gives me goose bumps. It showcases the full spectrum of what the acoustic is capable of. Especially since there are two of them, the song is like a double whammy. Supposedly it’s Di Meola on the right channel, and Paco de Lucia on the left, that play together with such harmony and beauty, the song is not easily overlooked.

These are the two songs that stand out in my mind, but it is not to say that the other songs not equally as impressive, because they are.

This CD is very unique, and I’m happy I picked it up. Now I understand why Petrucci threw Di Meola in that sentence.

April 28, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Casino (1978)

Al_Di_Meola_casinoFrom amazon.com

Well what all else can be said that has not already been said about Al Di Meola? The man is hands down the greatest Guitarist to ever live and he is a 1,000 times better than Jimi Hendrix. So the next time you hear that Hendrix is the greatest guitarist of all time, they either do not know what they are talking about or are lying to you. Speaking of which in my personal opinion people were too messed up on drugs back then and that is my theory of why Hendrix and The Grateful Dead are so overrated to name a few. Until proven otherwise Al Di Meola is the most devastating guitarist in the whole world. No one is better. No one!

Now as for the cd, here we have one of the best instrumental solo albums ever released in Di Meola’s musical career. This album is a masterpiece and is clearly a jem. Al’s mind boggling guitar picking, finger tapping, and musical fusions are all here. Just sit back and listen to the Teacher show you a thing or two about how to play the guitar.

1. Egyptian Danza:
This first song has a very exotic melody as per the title. Beautifully genius guitar licks and riffs that showcase Al Di Meola at his finger picking/finger licking good. Most guitarists will wish they could only play half as good as he does on this song. Like to point out how Mr. Di Meola always has a lot of depth, emotion, and soul in his songs. This song proves how this guitarist can make his guitar go through all types of various musical mood changes. And to think there was a time that people claimed he had no soul in his early playing days.

2. Chasin’ The Voodoo:
This song is really good especially the drumming, beats, loops, and synthesizers that enhance the guitar playing. The main riff is just awesome! One thing like to point out about Al Di Meola that differentiates him from the rest of the pack is that he makes albums that are not just great guitar chop records, but rather albums that are musical records. Artists should always make sure to surround themselves with other talented people to enhance the vibe of their recordings. Too many instrumentals albums have great guitars, but not enough of the other parts. In essence most solo/instrumental albums are not as good as they could of or should have been. Remember Di Meola’s albums are not just great guitar chop records, they are great musical records. So expect a lot of fusions of various genres in his songs.

3. Dark Eye Tango:
On this one the mood is slowed down to give the album a shift from a progressive fast pace from the previous songs to a smoothing, relaxing, and very romantic vibe. While this is a slower ballad type of song, it is still good, with a hooking upbeat. I.E. you will not fall asleep and you will not want to skip this song.

4. Senor Mouse:
Here we have a song with a lot of Latin flavour. This song has a vibe along the lines of a Santana type of song with Latin dance vibes, some flamenco, and other genres as well thrown in the mix. This song is not a very fast song, but it not a slow one either and is just another example of how this man loves to take his music to the next level by mixing things up and avoiding the musical norm.

5. Fantasia Suite For Two Guitars
a. Viva La Danzarina
b. Guitars of The Exotic Isle
c. Rhapsody Italia
d. Bravoto Fantasia
Well here we have a “Suite” themed song that is divided in to 4 parts. Part A has a beautiful intro guitar lick that resembles some of the licks that Eddie Van Halen did in the early days with the acoustic guitar. I wonder if Al Di Meola or this album influenced him in those songs. Then the song shift to some exotic classical licks reminiscent of something the locals in Hawaii would play. Next shift in the song goes to some classical old Italian guitar techniques that may seem out of place in this up-tempo song, yet still fit. The final part of the song changes back to the similar moods of the way the song began with the acoustic guitar licks that sound very up-tempo with a flamenco/bolero guitar styles that are flying all over the place. This song is just vintage Di Meola.

6. Casino:
Finally, the title cut. Al Di Meola saves the best for last. A song that has a lot of texture, progression, melody, and of course fusion which is signifies the skills of the guitarist godly talent. The vintage Di Meola-esque guitar shredding is here (Di Meola always had a knack of being able to play super fast while keeping his sound super clean) and as expected the sound is very unique. The song is very progressive with lots of notes coming at you from all directions.

Well there you go. Al Di Meola is Guitar God and will go down with the best of them. Like to point out that this cd also helped put socks in the mouths of his early critics that claimed he did not have his own signature style….did they ever take into consideration how young he was back then in reference to his musical career? Well no one these doubts Al’s guitar playing and this cd set the stage for his brilliant solo career that kept evolving.

April 8, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Casino | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Land Of The Midnight Sun (1976)

aldimeolalandFrom amazon.com

This is a good (1976) debut by electric/acoustic guitar virtuoso Al Di Meola, who originally came to my attention through his work with jazz rock outfit Return to Forever. Al is truly a musician’s musician, which is why my orchestra/jazz band cronies and I would pore over every note of this album in high school.

The lineup on Land of the Midnight Sun (1976) brought together some of the finest musicians in the jazz rock realm and Al (6 and 12 string acoustic guitars, electric guitar, synthesizer, and percussion) is joined by several electric bass guitarists: Anthony Jackson (1, 2), Jaco Pastorius (5), Stanley Clarke (4); and drummers: Steve Gadd (1), Lenny White (2), and Alphonse Mouzon (5). Rounding out the core lineup are keyboardists Chick Corea (6) and Barry Miles (2, 5); percussionist Mingo Lewis (1, 2, 4, and 5); and female vocalist Patty Buyukas (4).

I think it goes without saying that these folks are all first chair performers and the playing is simply jaw-dropping. Al in particular dazzles throughout with his rapid fire scalar runs on both the acoustic and electric guitars. He also demonstrates that he is reasonably adept at composition/arrangement too, including some of the longer jazz rock/prog pieces such as Land of the Midnight Sun, Suite-Golden Dawn, and the delicate, shorter piece Love Theme from “Pictures of the Sea”.

At the heart of this album are three riff-heavy tracks that boast warp-speed ensemble playing and impossibly difficult time signatures – The Wizard, Land of the Midnight Sun, and Suite – Golden Dawn. Fortunately however, the album is also fairly diverse and ranges from the three, highly electric jazz rock/progressive rock rave-ups to a pleasantly subdued adaptation of a Bach piece played on acoustic guitar. Other quiet pieces include the duet between Chick Corea (acoustic piano) and Al (acoustic 6 and 12 string guitar) on Short Tales of the Black Forest.

Additional splashes of variety in timbre/texture include the Latin-flavoured percussion playing of Mingo Lewis; the combination of the female vocalist and Stanley Clarke’s vocals on “Pictures of the Sea”; and the breathtaking interplay between the mind-blowing and intricate (yet funky) bass lines of Jaco Pastorius and Al’s precise, staccato bursts of notes on the electric guitar (Suite – Golden Dawn). Unfortunately (for this keyboard lover), the use of keyboards on the album is somewhat subdued – Al may have wanted to focus on more a guitar-based sound, although the few instances of electric piano and synthesizer use are impressive, as is the acoustic piano playing of Chick Corea.

Although this album has not been remastered, the sound quality is actually fairly good. The liner notes are very skimpy however.

All in all, this is a good album of proggy jazz rock with enough spice and variety that it kept my interest throughout. Land of the Midnight Sun is recommended along with the excellent follow-up album Elegant Gypsy (1977) to those fans of both progressive rock and jazz rock.

April 7, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Land Of The Midnight Sun | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Splendido Hotel (1980)

41b1dQPD6dLFrom amazon.com

A lot has been said about Al Di Meola and his music outside of Return To Forever. Overall he tends to be viewed as a musician of extremes. He either embodies what are viewed as fusion’s best or most unflattering qualities. And there’s a lot of truth on both ends. He is a master musician with an ability and playing dexterity, from mild to wild that you could believe. On the other hand his music could be overly technical and sometimes presented him more as a musicians musician than anyone out to entertain or be intensely creative.

Debates aside he entered the 80’s at a time where even in fusion poppier, more compressed musical sounds such as the type Bob James and Quincy Jones were starting to pioneer became the acceptable standard. The question was would Di Meola, one of the purveyors of the most pyrotechnical variety of fusion be able to adapt to the change. Actually he did an excellent job and delivered one of the strongest albums of his career.

This albums eleven songs find Di Meola moving through a series of songs in many different styles, mostly showcasing his more flamenco style of guitar playing as opposed to the rockier variety and, by and large avoiding anything too melodramatic. “Alien Chase On The Arabian Desert”, “Dinner Music Of The Gods” and the slower “Isfahan”, all between 8 and 11 minutes a piece all have a strong late 70’s/early 80’s latin rock flavour similar to the kind of music you’d find on Santana’s Marathon or Zebop from the same era.

“Two Ta Tango” and “Splendido Sundance” both almost qualify as solo numbers, the former built largely on rhythmic plucking and the latter more on a fast paced flamenco based melody. “Al Di’s Dream Theme” is an elaborate three section tune-starting out more in a jazz-funk vein and into more latin fusion and back to a latin rock style again it could be described as a mini suite, of sorts. “Silent Story In Her Eyes” and “Spanish Eyes” both have kind of a latin jazz-funk shuffle to them as are considerably more crafted than the loose instrumental oriented sound of Di Meola’s earlier music.

Two songs on the album may not satisfy some people but are right up my alley. “Roller Jubilee” and “I Can Tell” both fall more into the jazz/funk vein with the first of these songs have a slight latin style disco flavour (especially in Anthony Jackson’s bass lines” and the later featuring a Michael McDonald-like keyboard melodic line and Al himself singing the lyrics. Much the same as with Larry Carlton and other guitarists in this genre who’ve attempted vocals it will likely never be counted as one of Di Meola’s strongest talents.

But despite what I hear on this he actually survives it without utterly embarrassing himself the way people like Stanley Clarke sometimes have when they first tried to sing. The album ends with “Bianca’s Midnight Lullaby”, another flamenco type number with musical references from all over the Mediterranean region-from Italy to Greece. So this album manages to be a clever combination between melodic jazz-funk/fusion and early world fusion sounds. In a way it bridges the sounds of jazz fusion from one decade to another and therefore has a strong influence on what other musicians in the genre would do for the coming decade.

April 7, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Splendido Hotel | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy (1977)

325006176_fb9ae10669_zFrom jazzmusicarchives.com

For ‘Elegant Gypsy,’ Di Meola carries a similar line-up over from his first album and produces a more consistent record. While it follows a similar pattern in structure and sequencing, it’s more satisfying overall.

If the songs are much the same texture-wise, using percussion, a tight rhythm section and speed-driven guitar work, along with often atmospheric keys – it’s no surprise that he choose to refine the successful sound from ‘Land of the Midnight Sun.’

After the steady opening of ‘Flight Over Rio’ with its nice tempo shift in the middle, we have the more contemplative ‘Midnight Tango’ which is probably the highlight of the album. Smooth but still surprising, it’s graced with evocative solos from both guitar and piano, and seems to be a step forward in arrangement for Di Meola. Here he gives the song a lot of space, choosing his moments on electric guitar carefully, while also incorporating more acoustic playing.

‘Mediterranean Sundance’ continues the acoustic theme – in the form of a duet between flamenco legend Paco de Lucía and Di Meola. It’s stunning (and I do have a soft spot for flamenco guitar) perhaps not simply for their dazzling fretwork but the way it so effortlessly brings Spanish imagery to mind, it’s one of those pieces (a little like ‘Lady of Rome…’) that transports your mind. While it would be revisited and expanded years later on Friday Night in San Francisco, this version is still wonderful.

Following the duet is ‘Race With Devil on Spanish Highway’ a menacing track that features drummer Lenny White’s second fine performance on the album, and one that again displays the speed we’ve come to expect from Di Meola by now.

‘Elegant Gypsy Suite’ is a little more of a mid-tempo piece and a satisfying conclusion to the album, its bass and key sound hinting at material that would be covered on Meola’s follow up ‘Casino.’

Another fantastic album of Latin Jazz fusion, four stars.

March 31, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Land Of The Midnight Sun (1976)

aldimeolalandFrom progarchives.com

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 | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Land Of The Midnight Sun (1976)

aldimeolalandFrom jazzexplorer.blogspot.co.uk

Al Di Meola is undoubtedly a legendary musician, and despite the fact that I have devoted the best part of the last seven years of my life listening to heavy metal, I often came across his name, hearing and reading about how great and influential he has been, not only to jazz musicians but to musicians across the board. And when Glen Drover included a great rendition of Al Di Meola’s “Egyptian Danza” in his solo debut “Metalusion” this year, it only succeeded in further piquing my interest. Other than that cover, I had honestly never heard his music.

But now that I’ve decided to delve into the wonderful world of jazz, the first artist I’m laying focus on is none other than Di Meola. I wanted to start right from the beginning, so I paid a visit to Amoeba yesterday to pick up his debut album on vinyl. There was a sense of excitement and anticipation in me as I held that huge piece of artwork, took out the vinyl, placed it on my turntable and started listening to it.

“The Wizard” gives the album a very Latin start. Di Meola’s guitar, synth and percussion combine together to create insane harmonies, as the song makes a journey through multiple tempo shifts. The tune is nothing short of mind-blowing, and makes a long-lasting impact on the listener’s mind straightaway. The sheer range of Di Meola’s musical abilities is quite evident even in these mere 6 and a half minutes.

The title song keeps a similar style going, but in the process it provides yet more delightful musical passages that vary from each other but are brilliantly arranged together to somehow make the tune sound like a cohesive unit. The bass sound is also quite a lot more prominent in this one as compared to the opening track. The song is over 9 minutes long, but I have come across countless number of songs that are of equal or longer duration, and don’t even come close to being as musically rich as this one.

A short acoustic guitar piece titled “Sarabande From Violin Sonata In B Minor” comes next. There is nothing quite as mentally liberating as the pristine sound of an acoustic guitar, and when it’s being played by someone like Di Meola, it’s even better. So needless to say, I’m glad that the album includes an acoustic guitar piece by itself. This is followed by another soft little piece of music titled “Love Theme From Pictures Of The Sea”. Besides the sounds of the acoustic guitar, electric guitar and traces of percussion and synth, for the first and only time on the album you’ll hear vocals.

Side B has just two tracks, the first being a three-part opus titled “Suite Golden Dawn”. I would say the titles of the three parts, “Morning Fire”, “Calmer Of The Tempests” and “From Ocean To The Clouds” are completely justified as the music creates images that go perfectly with their respective titles. The tune moves beautifully from part to part as they blend very smoothly into each other. Di Meola and his posse of musicians offer a whole plethora of music, creating 10 minutes that can truly be savored.

The album comes to a perfect ending, with veteran musician Chick Corea joining in with a composition of his own, titled “Short Tales Of The Black Forest”. Not only did he write the complete song, but also played the piano and marimba on it, making it quite a unique track that stands on its own when compared to the rest of the album.

Overall, this album is every bit as great as I had expected it to be, and then some. From this it’s pretty clear that the brilliance of Al Di Meola was there for everyone to see, even at such an early stage of his career, and I can imagine how this album must have provided the ideal launching pad for the rest of his career, inspiring Di Meola to keep creating music that in turn became a huge inspiration for others who were fortunate enough to be exposed to this piece of music when it was actually first released, exactly nine years before I was born.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Land Of The Midnight Sun | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy (1977)

325006176_fb9ae10669_zFrom sputnikmusic.com

Jazz fusion is one of the many, many music gifts that Sputnik has bestowed upon me over the past few years. In that time, I’ve heard a myriad of bands and genres that have had an impact on me and the way I view music and those that create it.

Perhaps more than any other type of music, jazz fusion has redefined my perception of everything that I’ve listened to up to this point. The album that started this reverence, you ask? Well, that would be guitar extraordinaire Al DiMeola’s 1977 masterpiece, Elegant Gypsy.

What truly shines on this record is the varied, textured soundscapes presented with each track. There is an eclectic cohesion of styles at hand. The jaw-dropping flamenco acoustic guitar on ‘Mediterranean Sundance’ gives off an iridescent aura, one of a Greek coastal city basking in the sparse, pastel-purple light of the early evening.

On the other hand, the opening bass line to the album’s lead track ‘Flight Over Rio’ could easily have been snaked into a Tool song, its dark effect pulsating through a chaparral scene of sound.

The instrumentation, as with many other jazz fusion groups, is nothing short of phenomenally top-notch. The shredding, abrasive guitar slithering through the album’s best track and centerpiece ‘Race With Devil on Spanish Highway’ never misses a beat, never falters for a second. An interlude of faultless guitar and drum synching segues into a beautiful bass-driven groove as Al works exquisite magic with his instrument, for this track feature some of the best guitar tones you’re likely to find in any variety of music.

The entire rhythm section on ‘Midnight Tango’ are as prevalent as they are anonymous, perfectly complimenting one another, as well as with regards to DiMeola’s wildly cascading guitar lead. Beauty unmatched abounds to no limit on the short but oh-so-sweet song ‘Lady of Rome, Sister of Brazil.’

The dueling acoustic guitars lull one with the strength of a child’s nursery rhyme, ultimately progressing into a relaxed, almost jam-like quality. The ambience given off by those guitars is unbelievable, as if the entire ensemble is present.

Another aspect of the album that I find pleasing is that no instrument overshadows another. Even with the production of the album, no singular player seems to be mixed louder or more prevalent than any other. An excellent example would be the final track, ‘Elegant Gypsy Suite,’ an uninhibited jam, a melting pot of numerous playing styles and genres stewed into quite the musical experience. The sound that is produced during this track is unique, with DiMeola throwing in some fabulous lead lines, alternating in speed to fit the ever-changing tempo and feel of the song. The track culminates in a final, spastic burst of sound. Somehow dissonant, this is a fitting end to an incredible album.

I, in all objective honesty, have absolutely no complaint regarding this album, music- or instrumentation-wise. Every single track is a glorious example of not only musical ability, but the knowledge of how music meshes with itself and different styles. To be quite honest, I was a little apprehensive at the fusion of my two favorite genres, rock and jazz.

Elegant Gypsy has shown me, and I hope it shows you, that it is possible to create something moving, powerful, and seminal with two vastly different elements. All that is needed is the willingness and confidence to do so. Look at what has come out of it!

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Elegant Gypsy | | Leave a comment

Al Di Meola Casino (1978)

Al-Di-Meola-Casino-494875From sputnikmusic.com

Smooth, traditional, suave, passionate, exotic… These are just a few words that could sum up the guitar playing of renowned jazz guitarist Al Di Meola. Working with the likes of jazz fusion band Return to Forever made him a name stay in the jazz guitarist community and with his release of “Elegant Gypsy” he was solidified as one of the more talented acts of the 70s.

“Casino” would take the likes of his previous works and expand a bit more on his style and flair and venture off into the slots of creativity. So lets take a walk through the casino and I’ll place bets right now your sure to dig this album.

Kicking off the album with “Egyptian Danza,” Di Meola creates a very strange organ-driven atmosphere that sort of spooks you out upon first listen. As the track races on you are jolted from one odd time signature to the next. This creates a bit of tension in the listener as they have no idea what is to come.

The spooky Egyptian-like movement continues and calms a bit. What you’ll notice immediately is the entrancing nature of the song. It acts like a siren of sorts tempting you to come closer only to slap you right in the face with a fretboard attack. The creepy atmosphere to the song continues as you are dragged around the barren desert sands searching for the next song to quench that Di Meola thirst…

“Chasin’ The Voodoo” creates another strange atmosphere, opening with tribal like beats on the bongos. Soon enough, a menacing guitar lick comes in and pounding drums create a sense of insecurity. The tone of this song is really worth listening to. He mixes in a lot of the ambient background pianos/organs, and drums with some neat effects that just add so much to the overall sound. This track makes me feel really uneasy for some reason but I can’t stop listening. This really showcases Di Meolas technique as well.

With the next track “Dark Eye Tango,” you’ll immediately notice a more smooth side of Di Meolas playing style reminiscent of his future albums like “Soaring Through a Dream.” The use of inconsistency continues as you are greeted with an increase in tempos and distortion. The chimes at the beginning really set the mood for the whole piece. One thing you’ll notice is that a common theme that I always feel is in his style is that it can be enjoyed in so many different ways. With this number, you could just as easily layout and sit out in the sun just as well as you could grab your significant other and dance in the moonlight. Just a real treat that makes this music pretty special.

With “Senor Mouse” Di Meola shows an odd side to his sound. The drum and bass is pretty unique and the guitar playing is a lot more experimental when compared to the previous tracks. It takes on a bit of a more psychedelic approach reminiscent of his earlier works with Return to Forever. Even with the semi-trippy-ness to the piece, he still makes it easily intoxicating with the suave nature of guitar work. As with other tracks, it slowly begins to build and just when you think the the climax will rear its head- it doesn’t.

You are then swept off your feet by one of the stronger songs on the album “Fantasia Suite.” This song just completely takes you places. The fast plucking at the beginning is a superb start and the addition of the percussion is just incredible. With this piece, Di Meola steps away from the electric guitar and takes you away with a classical guitar piece.

It’s jaw-dropping to say the least and shows you that his fingers can work just as fast and effectively as his pick. What really stands out is the strong percussion on the bongos. Towards the middle of the song Di Meola switches off to acoustic and engulfs the listener with an array of exotic jazzy chords and fast shred-like licks. This is such a powerful part of not only the song but the whole album and really showcases how much of a talent he really is. Definitely worth a checkout.

The lights are shining and the twinkle in your eyes bring about a sense of intrigue as you get ready for the last song of the album. “Casino” closes the album with such a cool swagger. From the opening percussion and weird effects to the various movements throughout, you are taken away into a scene of high-dealing and glitzy slot machines. This piece is a more relaxing way to end the album and when you think about where this album has started and ended you’ll feel like Di Meola just did a complete 360. The last minute or two of this song is some of the strongest points of this album as the drums match much of his notes picked. It’s a real treat to listen to.

“Casino” definitely shows a different side of Di Meola in terms of experimentation. “Elegant Gypsy” felt like more of a raw album whereas this one is a little more refined and somewhat easier to listen to. It really is a musical adventure and an enjoyable listen. With “Casino” Di Meola shows us that he is a multi-faceted artist and likes playing around with the listener by shifting and fluctuating each piece in such a way you can feel like doing so many things at once.

If I had to place a bet on this album, I’d certainly go all-in.

March 6, 2013 Posted by | Al Di Meola Casino | | Leave a comment