Al Di Meola @ The Parker

By: Ray Anton | Photos: Karen Tarte

Since exploding onto the jazz fusion music scene at the young age of 19 with Chic Corea’s band ‘Return to Forever’, Al Di Meola has been an elite guitar master with few peers. From playing with jazz fusion giants like Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and Stanley Clarke, to flamenco legend Paco de Lucia, few guitarists have been able to cross genres with the ease and high level that Al has. His technical mastery of lightning fast complex solos and compositions blended with jazz, classical, Latin and Mediterranean sounds through both electric and acoustic guitars has been the foundation of over 20 albums he has released since embarking on his solo career following 3 albums with ‘Return to Forever.’

Back in September of last year, Al suffered a heart attack in Bucharest while on stage. He was rushed to a nearby hospital. Understandably, the rest of the tour was canceled as he took the rest of the year off to recuperate. Many believed that a return to touring would take much longer, if he was to return at all. I will say I was quite surprised to see him schedule a tour starting January. The tour is being dubbed as ‘The Early Electric Years’ and it focuses primarily on his first solo releases. It also features the return of his iconic black 1971 Gibson Les Paul Custom, which graces the cover of Elegant Gypsy. He has not used the guitar live since the late 70s.

Al stopped by Fort Lauderdale’s The Parker Sunday night January 28th for the last show of the first leg of the tour. He is taking a break in February, then heading to Europe for ten acoustic shows in March. ‘The Early Electric Years’ tour resumes back in the states in April and is currently slated for twenty one shows thru mid May. The show was performed in two sets.

The band consisting of Philippe Saisse (keyboards), Gumbi Ortiz (percusión), Luis Alicea (drums) and Elias Tona (bass) opened the show with no opening act a few minutes after 7:30 with the song ‘The Wizard’, which is the opening track off his first solo album, Land of the Midnight Sun. Al played several selections from his first few albums such as ‘Flight Over Rio’, ‘Elegant Gypsy Suite’, and ‘Dark Eyed Tango’. Al went back to his Chick Corea days in Return to Forever by playing ‘Beyond the 7th Galaxy’. The band did a number that had never been played live, the title track from the album Casino. The group finished the first set playing a song inspired by the 69 year old Al Di Meola’s 8 year old daughter, ‘Ava’s Dream Sequence Lullaby’ and ‘One Night Last June’. After a 20 minute intermission, the band continued their musical onslaught with ‘Egyptian Danza’ into ‘Senior Mouse’. The quintet then launched into a new tune to be released this year, ‘Tears’. They then went back to 1977 with ‘Midnight Tango’ and then finished the show going back to 1974 and Return to Forever with ‘Song to the Pharaoh Kings’. After taking a bow and walking off stage, the packed crowd roared with applause and many of us new the show would not be complete without his most popular song, ‘Race with the Devil on Spanish Highway’. The musical monsters did not disappoint as they returned for their encore with that tune.

During the 2 hour show, the band demonstrated amazing musicianship of blazing fast runs and a closeness not often seen in today’s ‘backing track’ filled music landscape. They never missed a beat. I was completely enthralled with this band’s musical mastery!

While I’m a huge fan of Al’s work, I will admit I was a tad skeptical that he was returning so soon after what happened to him just a few months back. All my doubts were put to rest just a few minutes into the show and Al was blasting high speed runs and commanding his guitar as if nothing had happened to him. It is truly amazing that Al is still performing at the incredibly high level he set some 45 years ago!!!

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