Sunday, September 29, 2013

Al Di Meola - The Elegant Gypsy

Al Di Meola gypsy guitar
Al Di Meola

Al Di Meola (born Al Laurence Dimeola, July 22, 1954 in Jersey City, New Jersey) is an acclaimed American jazz fusion and Latin jazz guitarist, composer, and record producer of Italian origin (from Cerreto Sannita). With a musical career that has spanned more than three decades; he has become respected as one of the most influential guitarists in jazz to date. Albums such as Friday Night in San Francisco have earned him both artistic and commercial success with a solid fan base throughout the world.

"If you don't advance creatively," Al Di Meola once told Guitar Player's Jim Ferguson, "then all you have left is playing Vegas." From his stunning arrival on the scene as the fiery virtuoso in Chick Corea's jazz fusion group Return to Forever to his international acclaim as the member of an acoustic guitar trio, to his championing of the musical legacy of tango master Astor Piazzolla, guitarist Di Meola has held firm to this credo. Passionate, opinionated, and immensely gifted, he has covered more musical terrain in his 20-year career than many artists have in a lifetime. Di Meola's accomplishments are made all the more remarkable by the fact that he has achieved them on both electric and acoustic instruments. Outwardly the electric guitar might seem similar to its acoustic counterpart talented performers on the two instruments have emerged from time to time, but few other artists have shown such a mastery of both or have been able to use them in such a wide variety of musical contexts.

As a youngster in the New Jersey town of Bergenfield, some 20 minutes away from New York City, Di Meola's first musical experience was on drums. However, when he was eight he began taking lessons from a local guitarist named Robert Aslanian who introduced him to a wide variety of music. Di Meola's exposure to many different musical repertories would continue to inform his development as a guitar soloist.In the early 1970s Di Meola studied instrumental performance at Boston's Berklee School of Music and performed with keyboardist Barry Miles. It was a call from keyboardist Chick Corea in 1974, though, that truly set his career in motion. Corea, who a year earlier had founded a second version of his influential fusion group Return to Forever, heard tapes of Di Meola performing with Miles's group and found him a worthy replacement for Bill Connors, who had recently left the band. After only a few days of rehearsal, Di Meola made his Carnegie Hall debut with Corea's group, and the following night Return to Forever played for a crowd of 40,000 in Atlanta.

Over the next two years, Return to Forever continued to tour successfully and released three albums. When the group suddenly dissolved in 1976, Di Meola, who had just released his first solo album, Land of the Midnight Sun, was momentarily disoriented by the group's disbandment but decided to use the opportunity to pursue a solo career. Elegant Gypsy followed in 1977, and the album became Di Meola's first major commercial success, ultimately selling nearly a million copies.With Di Meola's developing popularity as a soloist came a certain amount of negative press. Though most writers agreed that Di Meola was a phenomenal technician on his instrument, a few felt that his pyrotechnics masked a lack of emotional content. The controversy reached a head when Di Meola first teamed with acoustic virtuosos John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia for a world tour and a live album, recorded in 1981. Though the album, Saturday Night in San Francisco, was hugely successful and won several awards, Stereo Review critic Joel Vance commented that the trio was so intent on displaying their virtuosity that "not one moment of real emotion is allowed; with all the dazzling zip, the result is sterility."

Al Di Meola
Al Di Meola

 After his second recording with Lucia and Mclaughlin in 1983, Di Meola began another important new phase of his career in 1991, when he founded the acoustic ensemble World Sinfonia. World Sinfonia included Dino Saluzzi on Piazzolla's own instrument, the bandoneon--a type of accordion--and sought to capture the intense emotion of Piazzolla's music in a fresh new setting. During the early 1990s the group toured extensively and recorded two critically acclaimed albums, the first featuring what Down Beat's Jon Andrews called Di Meola's "strongest acoustic work and most imaginative arrangements to date." World Sinfonia proved another intriguing chapter in a rich and varied career, and it seemed likely the future would find Al Di Meola following other musical paths with similar passion and vigor.

"I'm doing the music I like and it's a great high," Al once said. "I've established a following and now I want to reach more people." The excitement and challenge of his music in both acoustic and electric styles is proven with each new project he takes on, as every performance is, indeed, a tour de force!

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