Al Di Meola/World Sinfonia – Pursuit Of Radical Rhapsody – Concord Music Group/Telarc TEL-32835-02, 72:34 ****:
(Al Di Meola – guitar, percussion, keyboards; Fausto Beccalossi – accordion; Kevin Seddicki – guitar; Gumbi Ortiz – percussion; Peter Kaszas – drums percussion; Victor Miranda – bass; Charlie Haden – bass; Peter Erskine – drums; Gonzalo Rubalcaba – piano; Barry Miles – string arrangements, keyboards; Mino Cinelu – percussion; Gabor Csonka – violin; Viktor Uhrin; violin; Gergely Kuklis – violin; Gyula Benk – viola; Andras Sturcz – cello)
Not all New Jersey guitar players who were influenced by the music of Elvis Presley, The Beatles and The Ventures became rock and roll kings. Al Di Meola practiced eight to ten hours a day trying to discover his stylistic calling. When he heard the “Godfather of Fusion”, Larry Coryell, it was evident that jazz would be it. After enrolling at the Berklee School Of Music, the nineteen year old became part of Chick Corea’s seminal group Return To Forever. This unlikely twist of fate launched his career. After three successful albums with RTF, Di Meola began his lengthy stint as a band leader. With more than seven albums for Columbia Records, he worked with Steve Gadd, Lenny White, Anthony Jackson, Jaco Pastorius, Jan Hammer, Barry Miles, Corea, and Mingo Lewis.
In 1980, Di Meola formed an acoustic guitar trio with Paco De Lucia and John McLaughlin, releasing three albums. He has worked with Luciano Pavorotti, Paul Simon, Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter, Steve Winwood, Les Paul, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock, constantly expanding his musical influences. After the 2008 RTF Reunion Tour, all his attention turned to the New World Sinfonia, bringing jazz to a world stage.
Pursuit Of Radical Rhapsody is an ambitious collage of world music and fusion jazz. But there is more to this album than merely specific influences. Showcasing his considerable guitar skills (acoustic and electric) and songwriting acumen, this project is wildly spirited and crafted with precision. The interplay with the musicians in New World Sinfonia is compelling. “Siberiana” is an indication of the forceful nature of the collaboration. Di Meola sparkles on acoustic guitar as the band surrounds his machine-gun riffs with cadenced accents. Fausto Beccalosi adds a touch of romanticism on accordion. The acoustic resonance continues on “Michelangelo”s 7th Child (a reference to his father). After an elegant string introduction, the melody is subtly explored with guitar and accordion. The overall ensemble play surrounds the compositions. “”Gumbiero” draws from Afro-Cuban salsa tempos and percussive accents. Gonzalo Rubalcaba brings his inimitable touch on piano. There is a two-piece Morocco-flavored excursion (Mawazine Pt.1 and Pt. 2) that underscores the complex rhythmic structures of the band.
The Latin influence is also evident on “Destination Gonzalo”. Di Meola rips off a fusion-laced electric guitar lead that sets up some spontaneous piano runs by Rubalcaba. Two well known covers grace the album. Despite numerous versions of Harold Arlen’s “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, Di Meola registers a tender fresh energy. Dedicated to Les Paul, the deft phrasing reveals the soulful interpretation of a new jazz master. “Strawberry Fields Forever” is rearranged with flair. Percussion by Mino Cinelu and an agile bass line by Charlie Haden are intriguing, and reinvent this psychedelic reverie.
The musical intensity fluctuates as the ensemble attempts to generate many different world music cultures. The outcome is overwhelming, but ultimately satisfying.
TrackList: Siberiana; Paramour’s Lullaby; Mawazine, Pt. 1; Michelangelo’s 7th Child; Gumbiero; Brave New World; Full Frontal Contrapuntal; That Way Before; Fireflies; Destination Gonzalo; Bona; Radical Rhapsody; Strawberry Fields; Mawazine, Pt. 2; Over The Rainbow
— Robbie Gerson