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Cover Story [Issue # 24 ]
Al Di Meola: Truth And Consequence

By Dean Truitt

Consequence of Chaos ( CD Telarc )


For over three decades, Al Di Meola has expanded the boundaries of guitar in terms of technique, style, harmony, and arrangement in a manner similar to Alexander the Greatís territorial conquest of the Ancient World. One cannot overstate his influence.

With technical prowess that broke the sonic boom and reached musical heights that were previously considered impossible, Di Meola sent shockwaves throughout the world. Chick Corea personally plucked the teenage prodigy from the prestigious Berklee College of Music to join the fusion supergroup, Return to Forever.
After three landmark RTF albums with Corea, bassist Stanley Clarke, and drummer Lenny White, the group’s disbanding launched the guitarist’s phenomenal solo career. On his earliest works such as the seminal Land of the Midnight Sun, Elegant Gypsy, Casino, and Splendido Hotel, the New Jersey native ignited the listener’s imagination with blistering chops and inventive compositions. Not only did his works pioneer the parameters of fusion with tracks such as “Race with the Devil on Spanish Highway,” the guitarist also crafted some of the most commercially successful instrumental albums of the era.

While forging an impressive solo career, Di Meola also joined forces with Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin to craft several inspiring records. Their watershed album, Friday Night in San Francisco, captures the trio at the height of its power, giving brilliant interpretations of the guitarists’ best works.

After years of successful recordings that focused more on acoustic, Di Meola returns to his solid body electric guitar on his latest, Consequence of Chaos. Inspired by an impromptu live performance, Di Meola explains, “I appeared at a NAMM [National Association of Music Merchants] show a few years ago and played a Paul Reed Smith party that they had and I got the buzz again. The crowd reaction was phenomenal. The tone, of course, was great because I was using Paul’s amplifier and one of his prized possession guitars. I just got the buzz really strong and it came back because, especially in the United States, they have to have electric [guitar]. It’s what they yearn for.”

Kicking off in grand fashion, the song “San Marco” bookends the 15-track collection with two vastly different interpretations. The collection opens with the lilting “Moderna” version and closing with the more complex “Vecchio” arrangement. Though he did not intend to record the piece twice, the composer was not initially pleased with the original full band recording of the track and reworked it. Notorious for his perfectionist tendencies, Di Meola reveals, “We had actually recorded it first in the studio as a band playing the ‘Vecchio’ version. I just didn’t like the way it came out. It was just as simple as that. It wasn’t hitting me as I had imagined it would. But I could make it work. My gauge is like this: when I record something and I don’t feel like hearing it again, then I haven’t gotten it. But, if I want to keep listening to it because I’m so buzzed by it, then I know I have it. The way we had recorded that piece just wasn’t working, so that very next day I went to the studio and I came up with a completely different concept. Sometimes I like to go completely left and that’s where ‘Moderna’ came in. I can readapt almost any song into a different time signature without having to rewrite it and that’s what we did. The end result was something completely new sounding, almost modern sounding, which is how it got its title. But after recording it, I said, ‘ You know, there’s still something beautiful about the Old World kind of Italian-sounding original version, so I re-recorded it acoustically as a little tag.”

However, the closing track is by no means the only acoustic piece on an otherwise electric tour de force. Di Meola weaves acoustic musical vignettes throughout the collection. On many pieces, the artist performs guitar, keyboards, and percussion. For those who find it surprising that the guitarist would handle percussion with such an outstanding cast of drummers in his midst, Di Meola reminds that drums were his first instrument and his rhythmic style of playing stems from an innate sense of time and rhythmic arrangement. He asserts, “I’ve done a lot of percussion parts because I know exactly how I want to hear it and how I want to play it. I’m the composer, so I know where the holes are and where the counterpoint percussion part should be played and how they should be played. To convey all of that is very difficult. As the years have gone on, it seems like I’ve been becoming more like a classical composer, as opposed to a fusion guitarist/composer. The composer has a better view of how things should be played. I’ve always been into percussion and drumming. I very much know how pieces should be executed. Personally, I think I’m a better percussion than I am a guitar player, but that’s another story!”

Not only does Consequence of Chaos find Di Meola with his solid body electric again, but the session brought the maestro full circle with many of his earliest collaborators. “Red Moon” and “Cry for You” feature the man who gave Di Meola his first enormous break, Chick Corea. After a 27-year hiatus since the keyboard icon last appeared on one of his recordings, Di Meola was in disbelief at his old friend’s continued dominance of the instrument. Of Corea’s contributions, he raves, “I was really blown away with his performance because it reconfirmed his importance and his status. More importantly, not that he’s super old or anything, but he definitely has got that fire that I remember when we started out. He just ate it up. ‘Red Moon,’ the solo, I had to rethink my solo after that (laughs)! They were at such a high level, the duet was just brilliant.”

Beyond noting his skill as an improviser, composer, and performer, Di Meola has found a special chemistry that he has not experienced to the same degree as he has with the man that first brought him to the world’s attention. Of the exciting work together on Consequence of Chaos, he beams, “It’s rare that I get to play with a musician that has that kind of improvisatory ability at that level because what happens is you just breathe together. My way of conversing with him [musically] was with such ease. He would start a sentence; I would finish it. Or if I started one, he would finish it. It was just a beautiful conversation on a high level. I don’t have that very often in life. It had to be the best performance we’ve ever had on record ever between me and him.”

If there is one common ingredient to most of Di Meola’s songwriting, it is the ornate arrangement and sophisticated nuance that permeates each composition. The track “Tempest” is nine minutes of winding interplay between instruments, which sound as though they are dancing around one another. To realize the weaving flow, the composer describes, “I go about it by starting out with some very interesting arpeggiated changes and I elaborate on it. It could start with two or three changes with really cool underlying arpeggios. Once you expand on that, I usually get down to writing it all out. To write the melody is just tinsel on the tree. It’s really kind of simple for me because the inspiration that I get from the harmony and the interesting parts of the rhythm that are integrated in that arpeggio make it really kind of simple for me to come up with the melody. I always have the bass player play a very intricate part and it’s usually counterpoint.”

While Di Meola is proud of Consequence of Chaos and his entire career, he feels continued disappointment within the industry for a glaring lack of acknowledgement. To his bewilderment, he wonders why, in all his years of critical acclaim and stylistic influence across the globe, he has never been nominated for a Grammy award, let alone won one. He considers “Turquoise” from his latest album one of his finest works and does not understand why he repeatedly misses attaining recognition. He laments, “You can’t imagine how disappointed I was not to get some notice from the industry on that piece in terms of maybe a Grammy nomination. I’m really baffled. That was the one that I thought would get some attention and some industry praise.”

However, Al Di Meola feels grateful for the fans across the globe who have given him an astounding career and life. He has even announced yet another album, which is available only at his live shows and through his website, aldimeola.com. The work, Diabolic Inventions and Seduction for Solo Guitar, Volume 1, Music of Astor Piazzolla, is a fitting tribute to one of his lifelong heroes. Outspoken with words, fearless in thought, and revolutionary with ideas, Al Di Meola will undoubtedly forge onward in his maverick life.

 


Consequence of Chaos
Telarc

Truth And Consequence Al Di Meola Consequence of Chaos


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