Al Di Meola – Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody

Al Di Meola is lauded across the world of jazz for three separate endeavours (each a trilogy, coincidentally enough). The first is his trio of intense latin-fusion albums from the 70’s (Land of the Midnight Sun, Elegant Gypsy, and Casino), the second are his three albums with Return to Forever (Where Have I Known You Before, No Mystery, and Romantic Warrior), and the third are his three albums with the guitar trio of Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin, and, well, Al Di Meola (these three are best known for Saturday Night in San Francisco, but they made two other albums together). Of this trio of trilogies, my favorite albums are Casino (solo) and Where Have I Known You Before (Return to Forever). Everyone seems to say Elegant Gypsy and Romantic Warrior are the best though, for some reason.

I say all of this simply to establish Di Meola’s credentials in your mind if you didn’t already know of him. That said, this new album is nothing like any of those projects. In the 90’s, after a string of relatively crappy 80’s jazz fusion albums (fucking synths!), Di Meola began a project called World Sinfonia. I know what you’re thinking, but Di Meola’s “world” music is super great. He combines elements of ethnic music from all around the world (with special focuses on Morocco, Turkey, Brazil, and a bunch of other cool places), and makes a symphonic jazz style that’s quite unique. Most of the albums feature heavy use of bandoleon, and the phenomenal percussion of Gumbi Ortiz.

Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody is in the same vein as these albums, but with some key changes. Di Meola employs the electric guitar here – on past Sinfonia albums he had been using mainly acoustic. Even when using an acoustic he shreds masterfully, but I would argue that the master’s true skill is with electric. It’s nice to hear him come home. It’s even better to hear him play in this style on an electric.

Overall the music is simply luscious. It’s hard to call it jazz because it includes so many elements of music from all around the world, but at the same time it feels like it has jazz’s spontaneously nature, even though the compositions are clearly intricately and purposefully designed.

Di Meola is Di Meola, and the guitar is at the forefront of the entire album. There’s very little attention paid to other instruments in comparison, so it’s very unlike the solo-driven genre of jazz fusion in that way. Other instruments still manage to be prominently displayed alongside the guitar, however. The main ones are the accordion, which does get a few minor solos (such as on the wonderful track “Michelangelo’s 7th Child), but some sections even have bits of mellotron added for flavor. Throughout, the background is inundated with Gumbi’s latin percussion, which always flavor the music wonderfully. There are standard rock drums on occasion too, but everything is used in moderation, and nothing is out of place.

So this album is not for those of you who ONLY like the intensity of Elegant Gypsy, but for those of you who have a desire to see Di Meola in a separate musical era distinct from his older work. He wishes to see it that way, though he is known to break out his electric guitar in concert with his Sinfonia group to play some old classics, much to the delight of the audience. It’s great to see that he doesn’t forever try to capitalize on his most popular work like many musicians are known to do. A lot of respect must be given to him for this – forever trying to push the bounds beyond what we call jazz. I feel like he isn’t paid enough attention for it. Get the album, and try his other stuff with World Sinfonia while you’re at it.

Tracklist:

1. Siberiana 8:28
2. Paramour’s Lullaby 7:45
3. Mawazine Part 1 2:07
4. Michelangelo’s 7th Child 7:30
5. Gumbiero 6:18
6. Brave New World 1:54
7. Full Frontal Contrapuntal 4:52
8. That Way Before 3:06
9. Fireflies 4:01
10. Destination Gonzalo 5:16
11. Bona 6:00
12. Radical Rhapsody 5:02
13. Strawberry Fields 4:09
14. Mawazine Part 2 2:54
15. Over the Rainbow 3:04

Line-up:

* Al Di Meola – Guitars
* Fausto Beccalossi – Accordian
* Kevin Seddiki – Guitars
* Victor Miranda – Bass Guitar
* Peter Kazsas – Drums
* Gumbi Ortiz – cajon and assorted hand percussion

Guests:

* Mino Cinelu – Percussion on 3 and 14
* Sturcz String Quartet – Strings on 4 and 11
* Gonzalo Rubalcaba – Piano on 5, 10, and 12
* Peter Erskine – Drums on 10 and 12
* Charlie Haden – Bass on 13 and 15

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