Original article published on the CU Independent here.
Al Di Meola and band. Sept. 8, 2019. (Izzy Fincher/CU Independent)
Jazz guitarist Al Di Meola and his band filled the Boulder Theater Sunday night with polyrhythmic grooves and animated improvisations. The group performed a variety of repertoire from Di Meola’s catalog with a Latin jazz twist. Songs included some of Di Meola’s original compositions as well as tracks by The Beatles and Argentinian composer Astor Piazzolla.
Di Meola is a seasoned jazz legend, performing since the 1970s. In 1974, Di Meola was recruited by jazz pianist Chick Corea while studying at the Berklee College of Music. He later went on to tour with Corea’s group Return to Forever. Post-tour, Di Meola began recording solo albums and collaborating with other famous musicians, including Paco de Lucia, John McLaughlin and Jean-Luc Ponty. He has recorded more than 20 albums, including his 2018 release “Opus.”
On Sunday evening, Di Meola started off the evening with an intimate family moment, introducing his young daughter Eva to the crowd. Eva has been the inspiration behind some of Di Meola’s songs.
Di Meola then launched into “Milonga Noctiva” from “Opus.” From there, he cycled into other songs from the new album, including “Eva’s Dream Sequence Lullaby” dedicated to his daughter. Following that, Di Meola played the light, airy “Frozen in time” and pieces from his suite “Morocco Fantasia,” created for Morocco’s Mawazine Festival, as well as an arrangement of Piazzolla’s “Double Concerto.”
Early on in the performance, Di Meola and his band created a dense, multi-layered soundscape. Piano, guitar, accordion and drums each played independent lines, trading and transforming melodies into rhythmic motifs. The result was energetic percussive chaos.
Intricate countermelodies and improvisations flew around on stage, building, ebbing and converging together. The accordion’s distinctive organ-like voice evoked different characters between pieces, at first joyous with harsh, short articulations, then mournful. Jarring and brief articulations emphasized the dance rhythm while contrasting legato sections elevated the lyricism.
Al Di Meola at the Boulder Theater (Izzy Fincher/CU Independent)
Brassy accordion tones melted into Di Meola’s warm acoustic guitar sound. Even though he used a pick, Di Meola created the illusion of fingerstyle playing with dulce intimacy. His technical facility made playing look effortless, fingers hovering close to the fretboard, rapidly playing scales up and down the neck in a graceful blur of fluid motion.
Di Meola began the second half of the set with several Beatles tributes from his 2013 album “All Your Life (A Tribute To The Beatles).” He then launched into an inspiring anecdote about how he met the Beatles while recording in Abbey Road Studios. Di Meola recalled playing games with John Lennon’s son Julian and coincidentally renting a house next to Paul McCartney while staying in London.
Di Meola said he sometimes woke up and asked himself, “Did that really happen? Yeah, that really happened.”
The highlight of the second half was Di Meola’s take on a Piazzolla classic “Café 1930” from the Histoire du Tango suite. Originally written for a guitar and flute duo, the piece translated magnificently to a four-piece accompaniment. The accordion’s lyrical flute imitation added an additional layer of syncopation to the driving drum kit. The understated piece became a lively jam, receiving whistles of appreciation and loud applause upon completion.
Di Meola’s last notes of the night left a powerful impression. His use of space, holding a few moments before launching into the final descending scales and percussive chords, created tension and a final, satisfying release. The power of the groove brought closure to a set that spanned throughout the career and life of a magnificent guitar player.