separates shtick from a deep and narrow exploration of a particular artistic
genre? If someone repeats the same thing over and over with little by way of
variations (think Keith Herron), it's shtick. But if an artist continually
finds new ways to examine one genre, that's exploration. Al Di Meola is a
musical explorer of Magellanic proportions.
Di Meola's fiery guitar work has long been associated with
Latin/gypsy/flamenco-influenced jazz. His first professional gig cut short his
academic studies at Boston's Berklee School of Music. At 19 Di Meola joined
Chick Corea's band Return to Forever,
replacing their original guitarist, Bill Connors. After two years that included
a Grammy for 1975's No Mystery,
the group disbanded and Di Meola began his solo career. His first release, Land
of the Midnight Sun, started a run with Columbia Records that
included six more releases. In 1980 Di Meola changed his music dramatically by
joining with Paco De Lucia and John McLaughlin to form a guitar trio. Their
first album, Friday Night in San Francisco,
went on to sell more than two million copies.
Di Meola has kept up a busy schedule of touring and releasing
albums for the past 37 years. Like most of his albums, Pursuit
of Radical Rhapsody uses Latin-tinged melodic themes. But instead of
a small fusion group, Rhapsody
employs a larger and lusher musical force. De Meola calls his new group "New
World Sinfonia." Personnel include Kevin Seddiki on second guitar, Fausto
Beccalossi on accordion, Victor Miranda on acoustic bass, and Gumbi Ortiz and
Peter Kascas on percussion.
Twelve of the fourteen cuts on Rhapsody are original compositions. The exceptions are "Strawberry Fields" by Lennon and McCartney, and "Over the Rainbow" by Harold Arlen. This last tune is dedicated to Les Paul and features the kind of clean elegant guitar lines that Di Meola is known for. The results are ear candy of the highest order.