The World According to Keitho

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Return to Al Di Meola

Posted by keithosaunders on March 8, 2011

Last night, to celebrate my wife’s birthday we went to Yoshi’s with a couple of friends to see the guitar legend, Al Di Meola.  I had never seen him play before but I remembered him from his work in the mid 70s with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever.

Being that I’d never been much of a fusion guy, I hadn’t closely followed the Di Meola’s career.  I remembered that he had prodigious technique, and that back in the day he was considered something of a guitar god.  I was half-expecting to see a decrepid old man hobble out to the stage, sit in a rocking chair, and recount stories of the glory days with Chick, Stanley, and Lenny.  Instead this vibrant, raven-haired man bounded onto the stage looking like he was ready for a triathlon.  I checked his bio and found out that he is 56 — he could easily pass for 36.  

Di Meola has an easy, relaxed rapport with the audience and sports a dry, deadpan wit.  He spoke for a few minutes before beginning the set, introducing the band, which consisted of musicians from all over Europe, Cuba, and the Bronx.  I always like it when musicians take some time out to talk to the audience.  When it’s done well, as in Di Meola’s case, it establishes an intimate rapport.

The set began, and it soon became apparent that Di Meola has retained the impeccable technique that he is known for.  He played the first two-thirds of the evening on an acoustic guitar that was connected to a synthesizer. (probably through MIDI.)  The synth doubled the note one octave higher, adding some texture, and was not overpowering.  It   He would alternate between the synth and a distortion effect, which he used on some of the more frenetic songs.  

While Di Meola’s playing was remarkable, it was tough for this old hard-bopster to connect with much of what he was doing.  There was a lot of odd time signatures, as well as songs in 6/4 and 6/8.  Very little of the music was in 4/4, and there were hardly any grooves that fell into a pocket for any length of time.

I find that the older I get, the less fascination I have with how many notes can fit into a bar.  I’m more interested in how wide a quarter note can be, and building tension through interplay within the musicians.  Even when Bird was playing at the most impossibly fast tempos, the music always felt relaxed and in the pocket. 

Not that Di Meola does not seem relaxed.  It is remarkable how easily he executes, and he does have his lyrical moments.  It’s just that I, as a listener, am not relaxed.

That said, it was a great night of food and music.  I finally got to see Yoshi’s, which is a nice spot to hear music, if not a little cavernous.  It’s a big club, or a small theatre — take your pick!

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