Guitarist Al Di Meola is kicking off a seven-week tour with performances on the West Coast that include a stop this evening at The Canyon club in Agoura Hills.
Di Meola’s band, World Sinfonia, will play favorites from the guitarist’s 35-year career as one of the jazz world’s most admired musicians. His shows have been called “energetic, emotional roller coasters brimming with fiery passion, delicate arrangements and . . . inspiring technique.”
He will feature selections from his forthcoming CD, “Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody,” which I had a chance to hear this past week. I also spoke with Di Meola by phone from his home in New York.
It’s been five years since Di Meola’s last CD, the widest gap in his long career.
Said the artist, “We’ve had more tours and concert offers than ever before, primarily in Europe, and it was really hard to say no to such good offers, so staying away from the road to be cooped up in a studio for four months is really hard. And since the CD market has taken a dip, I had to find the right pocket of time to do this.”
Di Meola made his mark on guitar as part of Chick Corea’s ’70s fusion group Return to Forever. Now he mostly plays acoustic guitar, celebrating the pulsating, rhythmic, exotic sounds of Latin America and other world music cultures.
“I think what we’re doing is far more advanced, in musical terms,” Di Meola said. “I think the harmony is more complex and the tunes are more ambitious. For me, RTF was advanced music when I was 19 and 20 years old. . . . Going back to it recently was quite nostalgic and a lot of fun to play again, but it didn’t pose the same challenges. I think we have a really fine balance between the complexity and the sentimentality in the music we play.”
The stimulus for Di Meola’s current musical development was the sound of the late Argentine tango composer Astor Piazzolla, who pioneered “nuevo tango” in which elements of traditional Argentinian folk music are emboldened by classical and jazz influences. Piazzolla’s instrument was the bandoneón, a type of concertina played in Argentina and Uruguay. Di Meola’s longtime band member Dino Saluzzi plays the bandoneón in World Sinfonia. It gives the group an intoxicating, prominent sound.
“Piazzolla’s music has rubbed off on my own compositions,” Di Meola said. “He was the catalyst for me forming the whole concept of World Sinfonia. The bandoneón is an instrument that conveys the sentimentality of his music very well. It goes straight to the heart, evoking not only images of melancholy, loss and pain, but also beauty.”
Di Meola employs the sound of “tango Argentine” to color not only his own works, but also those of others. On his new CD he takes on John Lennon’s “Strawberry Fields Forever” as well as the evergreen “Over the Rainbow.”
Di Meola’s world tours often take him to exotic and remote locations. “We do shows in North Africa and the Middle East, and we also go to places in Eastern Europe and Russia that people have never heard of. Sometimes you get a taste of something local that might not have ever been heard by people in the states, so hopefully that element rubs off and will create a new inspiration,” the musician says.
Al Di Meola plays at The Canyon club this evening at 8 p.m.