Al Di Meola On Getting Beyond Fusion

Fusion giant Al Di Meola’s acoustic chops have always blown minds, whether as a solo artist on his groundbreaking mid-’70s releases, or on his legendary collaborations with fellow monsters John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia. Di Meola’s latest release, La Melodia Live in Milano, finds him with his World Sinfonia ensemble, which features Fausto Beccalossi on accordion, Gumbi Ortiz on cajon, and Peo Alfonsi on second guitar. In addition to his amazing nylonstring work, Di Meola’s skills as a composer are also on full display, with his songs fitting in seamlessly alongside pieces by Piazzolla, Parodi, and Morricone.
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Do you approach songwriting any differently when your compositions are going to be sitting side by side with Piazzolla’s?

Absolutely. When I compose, the bar is raised quite naturally due to the inspiration and compositional sophistication of those chosen pieces. It’s really important that that my pieces attain a high level of aesthetic.

Take a song from this album, such as “Infinite Desire” or “Misterio,” and talk about the writing process.

There was a definite emotional desire to immerse myself in the thought of reaching the heart with melody, the same way certain Italian operatic melodies affect the listener. In both of those pieces, I imagined a great vocalist in the classical world singing.

How do you see these compositions compared to your earlier work?

Between my own pieces, Piazzolla’s, and Parodi’s, the satisfaction of the blending of compositional factors—the harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic richness—along with the emotional human connection, means a hell of a lot more than loud fusion to me! And the emotion isn’t at the expense of challenging technique. It goes right along with the technical playing, and that’s the most exciting thing in the world.

How did you come to have another guitarist and an accordionist on these songs?

A second guitar is very important to play the more interesting arpeggiated written parts. It serves as a needed accompanist within the compositions. Accordion was my first instrument and, when played by an amazing instrumentalist like Fausto Beccalossi, its sound can automatically produce aural images of places, people, joy, and pain quite beautifully. I’m most proud of the high level of interplay between myself and Fausto on these performances.

Did you do any fixes in the mixing stage?

None!

“Mediterranean Sundance” still brings the house down. Did you have any idea when you wrote it that it might have that effect on people more than 30 years later?

No, I didn’t. But in 1977, when Paco and I recorded it for my Elegant Gypsy album, we knew that it was a magical one-time performance. After the first take, Paco needed to relax, so he smoked a joint and the second take was the one. The rest is history. We were blown away, as was everyone in the control room. There were not many moments like that in my career!

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