Al Di Meola – Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody

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A friend in High School loaned me Elegant Gypsy, a 1970’s jazz fusion album by a young guitarist named Al Di Meola.  It was different from the music that I listened to at the time (now mostly referred to as “classic rock”), but it was adventurous in its tones and shied away from the standard pop formulas that it appealed to the part of me that liked progressive rock music (Pink Floyd, Genesis, Renaissance).  A couple years later, two live discs made me a fan – Tour de Force – Live, which was an electric guitar jazz fusion showcase and Friday Night in San Francisco, an acoustic tour de force with two other fleet-fingered guitarists, John McLaughlin and Paco DeLucia.

Di Meola soon ventured into other guitars and sounds, and I lost interest, until I finally had an opportunity to hear him in concert a year or so ago.  The music that he played then, and during his follow up tour this year with the same band, is largely what is recorded on this CD.

I don’t listen to enough jazz or “world music” to be able to dissect this CD as much as I might prefer.  I do know that I don’t need a lot of this type music in my collection – in fact, this one should suffice nicely.

Di Meola plays an acoustic/electric guitar, and literally with the flip of a switch, the sound moves from acoustic to an effects-laden electric lead.  He doesn’t use both modes in every song, and it’s possible that holding with one or the other might be better suited for a particular song.  But when he goes electric, those who favor a rock edge to the music will be pleased, even if immersed in songs that share nothing in common with popular music, and, perhaps, little with what most would refer to as jazz.  His fret work, as always, is blazingly fast, even if occasionally distracting from the tone.  In concert, that’s awesome.  On disc, maybe.  Maybe not.

Otherwise, the guitar maestro works within varied styles (salsa, flamenco… I don’t know what else) that help the CD avoid a static lulling to sleep that comes to mind with mid-tempo jazz.  While my preference for supplementing the core rhythm section would be piano or keyboards, the accordion is used heavily both in carrying melodies or alternating leads with Di Meola’s guitar.  This might be off-putting to some, but the playing here will not bring to mind any vaudevillian connotations.

All said, this isn’t elevator music, by far, though to some instrumental music may wear thin by the 70th minute.  Likewise, it’s not so lost in music theory that it fails to connect.  The instrumentation is mixed, melodies are beautiful at times, and both the playing and recording are superb. Radical Rhapsody is not demanding of one’s attention in the background, yet still appreciated.  But more importantly, if one cares to listen, there’s plenty of richness in the details to enjoy.

Recommended Songs: “Gumbiero” and “Destination Gonzalo” (There are no songs suitable for a general purpose iPod playlists; it’s best taken as a whole).

3 of 5 STARS

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