by Josh Hart
In the May/June issue of Guitar Aficionado (buy here), we visited Al Di Meola in his New Jersey home to get a glimpse into the life of one of the most influential fusion guitarists of the 20th century and to celebrate the release of the master's excellent new album, Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody. The disc, recording almost entirely in the home studio that Di Meola recently constructed in the basement of his impressive Mediterranean-style villa, once again synthesizes a wide range of global musical influences and just might be the guitarist's most ambitious to date. Guitar Aficionado brings you a carefully selected playlist from the man who has profoundly influenced shredders from Yngwie Malmsteen to John Petrucci to Zakk Wylde.
Elegant Gypsy, 1977
One of two acoustic-only tracks on Elegant Gypsy, "Mediterranean Sundance" is a duet with flamenco virtuoso Paco de Lucia. De Lucia and Di Meola have shared many a musical moment in their careers, and always seem to bring out the best in each other. Certainly, de Lucia's mastery of the flamenco guitar only pushed Di Meola harder in his pursuit of successfully introducing Spanish flavors into his jazz fusion sound. (For another excellent collaboration, check out the track "Passion, Grace & Fire" from Di Meola's 1982 album, Electric Rendezvous.)
Casino (and its follow-up, Splendido Hotel) reflect Di Meola's growing fascination with Latin music, but it's this track, heavily influenced by traditional Egyptian tonalities, that truly distinguishes itself. "Egyptian Danza" makes heavy use of a Phrygian dominant scale, a favorite mode of another famous guitarist with a heavy interest in exotic music, Jimmy Page.
"Short Tales of the Black Forest"
Friday Night In San Francisco, 1981
Taken from the landmark '81 acoustic live album, which also features John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucía, this is an extraordinary take on a classic song by Chick Corea. Di Meola played guitar in Corea's fusion band, Return to Forever, from 1974 to 1977, and here returns the favor, infusing new life into the tune while verily making his Ovation acoustic beg for mercy.
"Race with Devil on Spanish Highway"
Elegant Gypsy, 1977
With its lightning fast licks and exceptional phrasing, this piece has been challenging guitarists who attempt to play it for decades. Easily the most well-known (and perhaps most highly-regarded) of all Di Meola's compositions, it's the number that the guitarist closes most of his concerts with.
"Ritmo De La Noche"
Electric Rendezvous, 1982
If you're into jazz-rock fusion, you can't go wrong with the first three tracks on Electric Rendezvos, but this cut, with its excellent organ solo, will probably go down as the most memorable from the album.