Live Music: Al's well with Di Meola

The American guitarist brings his blend of technical expertise and emotional intelligence to Israel for an ambitious eight shows in four days.

Al Di Meola 248.88 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Al Di Meola 248.88
(photo credit: Courtesy)
Al Di Meola is, at his own admission, going soft. But it's not that at the age of 54 he's slowing down or plain losing it. Di Meola's concert schedule and recording output would have musicians half his age gasping for breath. The American guitarist-composer, whose genre reach encompasses Latin music, jazz, fusion and more, says he has grown, both as an artist and a person, through connecting more with his feminine side. "Back in the old days, there was lots of emphasis on the technical side," he says in a telephone interview before coming to play eight shows in four days at the Zappa clubs in Tel Aviv and Herzliya. "Those of us who grew out of the fusion/jazz scene had no female fans. All that electric music addressed what I'd liken to something like the intellectual side of Led Zep. The audiences were primarily guys, you know, the head bangers. The whole electric fusion thing was about intensity." Di Meola changed his artistic ethos when he encountered the work, and the actual personage, of Argentinean tango master Astor Piazzolla. "Since 1980, I have gone through various acoustic and electric groups, but the most inspiring development came when I made friends with Piazolla," he says. "That altered my direction as a composer and brought together not so much the technical sides, but more so all the emotional aspects of how music affects you, and how you can go about incorporating the technical and intellectual sides of playing too. For me, that was a more important new direction." That, Di Meola feels, has not only opened up fresh avenues of artistic exploration but also brought in new fans. "It has worked in a tremendous way. I find my audiences are now divided between both sexes, and there is a feeling and appreciation of the emotional aspects of myself and my work." Di Meola has evidently come a long way since he made a name for himself as having one of the fastest pairs of guitar hands in the West. His landmark collaboration with fellow guitarists John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, on Friday Night in San Francisco, had fans - presumably mostly of a male persuasion - clamoring for more frenetic fretwork. But the New Jersey-born guitarist had other plans, heading instead for more gentle musical territory. "I just noticed that very little of the music was touching the heart, maybe none of it. But it had elements of excitement - velocity, structure of movement, passages, cleverness. It was cool and unnecessary. Compositionally there was some good content but it was missing the most important aspect, like the beautiful elements of pop and folk, where the music touched your heart. When I heard Piazolla's music for the first time, that connected both sides. His music embraced melancholy, sadness, anger and beauty and was, at the same time, highly technical." DI MEOLA'S work over the last two and a half decades has explored numerous avenues, much with a Latin base, but also drawing on a wide range of ethnic sources. "I have this drive to get better and to grow as a composer. A while ago I was thinking about some people who get to the point when they are just coasting, just thinking about doing the gig, and how much money they can make out of it. I'm not there, and I don't plan on getting there ever." Last year, however, Di Meola did stray somewhat from his chosen path, when he took part in a grand reunion of the acclaimed early seventies jazz-fusion group Return to Forever, led by stellar keyboardist Chick Corea. But, for him, it was a one-off departure. "I won't be doing that again," Di Meola said flatly. For now he is just delighted to be playing with the multinational band he is bringing here, which includes Italian guitarist Peo Alfonsi, percussionist Gumbi Ortiz who is of Puerto-Cuban descent, Hungarian percussion-drummer Peter Korzos, Spanish accordionist Fausto Beccalossi and Cuban acoustic bass player Victor Miranda. "This band is fun, warm and inviting," says Di Meola. "There are absolutely no ego problems in there. The guys are communicative and have strong emotions. I can honestly say I walk away from every concert we perform feeling one hundred percent fulfilled. In a way, it's almost shocking - like living in a dream and wondering when you're going to wake up. I feel truly blessed." Al Di Meola performs eight shows from April 22 to 25. For tickets, priced at NIS 200 and showtimes call, (03) 767-4646 or visit