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A piece of virtuosity, a larger soundscape!,
This review is from: Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody (Audio CD)
Al Di Meola has enjoyed an impressively long career as a recording artist.
He burst onto the scene playing in Chick Corea's Return to Forever fusion band, soon moving out on his own as soloist and valued collaborator with the likes of John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, Stanley Clarke and Jean-Luc Ponty.
The guitar virtuoso was only 22 when he recorded his first album as a leader, "Land of the Midnight Sun", back in 1976 (although he had joined Chick Corea's Return to Forever at 19), and a 56-year-old Di Meola was still going strong when 2011 arrived.
Di Meola's playing has evolved along the way; the shredding, intensity, speed, and pyrotechnics of his early albums were replaced by a more lyrical and introspective approach that shows some awareness of Pat Metheny yet is distinctively Al Di Meola.
But one thing about the guitarist that hasn't changed is his affection for world music, which was a major influence on early albums such as "Land of the Midnight Sun", "Elegant Gypsy", and "Casino", and is also a strong influence on his 2011 release "Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody".
This excellent album is jazz-rock fusion, but it is also world jazz; Di Meola maintains a decidedly international perspective throughout the CD, incorporating everything from Argentinian tango to Spanish flamenco to Middle Eastern and North African music.
Afro-Cuban salsa is also part of the equation, and two of Di Meola's guests are people with definite Latin credentials: bassist Charlie Haden (let's not forget Haden's Revolution Music Orchestra of the '60s and '70s, or the boleros he played on 2000's "Nocturne"), Havana-born pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and the ever-impressive accordionist Fausto Beccalossi.
The Afro-Cuban influence is especially strong on "Gumbiero" and "Destination: Gonzalo". although "Gumbiero" also incorporates flamenco and tango elements.
Each of the 15 tracks celebrates Di Meola's virtuosity and his highly complex relationship with the guitar strings.
The sounds he tempts from his instruments can be otherworldly, perhaps the cry of a solitary human voice one moment, the echo of mystical chimes the next.
"Learning acoustic guitar is a graduation process to play with any kind of clarity and technical ability," he says. "I come from a rhythm background in which the electric guitar offers more lyrical melodies, but you can't hide behind an acoustic guitar. When I compose at my studio in Miami Beach, I play basic arpeggio patterns until it becomes interesting to me and a melody arises. Then I add the bass part and two percussion parts. The rule is to never start with a melody".
Intricate fingering and sophisticated syncopation anchor this album.
"Siberiana" is followed by "Paramour's Lullaby." They establish the standard for the entire recording.
"I started 'Siberiana' while we were touring in Siberia and taking long, grueling trips through Russia on the bus," he said. "It's the first piece we rehearsed for this project and it proved to be a perfect blend".
The latter two numbers, the fiery "Gumbiero" and "Fireflies" feature stirring drumming. In contrast, the lush melodies of "Michelangelo", "That Way Before" and the familiar "Strawberry Fields" and "Over the Rainbow" display Di Meola's sweet, soft side.
"I was a Beatles fan from the beginning, so 'Strawberry Fields' is for them," he says". 'Over the Rainbow' is a small tribute to a large person, Les Paul, who recently died and was like my second dad. Sometimes music has a stormy content that men prefer, but when I moved into the European tradition of sentimentality, that didn't come at the expense of intelligence. Today when I sign after a show, there are as many women as men waiting in line".
Most of the material on "Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody" was composed by Di Meola himself, but two exceptions are the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields" and Harold Arlen's "Over the Rainbow".
And Di Meola, behaving like the jazz improviser that he is, genuinely interprets those well-known popular songs and brings something personal to the table instead of playing the type of lame, note-for-note covers that smooth jazz (which Di Meola has adamantly stayed away from) is infamous for.
Granted, Di Meola is by no means a jazz purist or a straight-ahead bebopper; he never claimed to be Barney Kessel or Tal Farlow, but his mentality is very much an improviser's mentality, and that mentality serves him consistently well on "Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody". A Henderson