Here’s a gift that keeps on giving: Jazz icon Al Di Meola, playing acoustic guitar in one of the best venues for jazz in the Capital Region.
Of course, when I say “acoustic guitar”, that doesn’t mean the music was completely “acoustic.” A vast array of foot pedals let Di Meola produce any sound he wanted, from synthesized accents to full-bore electric rock shocks. And when the pedal-pushing wasn’t enough, he pulled out his trademark rainbow-colored axe and served up the real thing, torching the Swyer with a hot medley of “Midnight Tango” and “One Night in June”, and then bringing the multi-colored guitar back for a sublime encore of “Strawberry Fields Forever.”
But Beatles covers and early-solo-catalog items weren’t what this night was about. The lion’s share of the two-set performance focused on Live from Seattle and Elsewhere, Di Meola’s latest disc with World Sinfonia. The music had a palette as colorful as Di Meola’s electric guitar, and it jumped about the Swyer as the multi-talented quintet displayed the kind of breathtaking instrumental choreography that only comes from longtime collaboration.
Muscular percussionist Gumbi Ortiz was the inspiration for “Gumbiero”, one of several pieces that made the second set hotter than the first. According to Di Meola, he and Ortiz have worked together “22 years, in about 32 bands.” The guitarist also shared an astonishing chemistry with accordion player Fausto Baccalosi, who played the perfect foil throughout the evening. Baccalosi contributed searing vocalese on “Turquoise” and “Umbras”, and even harmonized with himself when he whistled along with some of his solos.
With a veteran like Di Meola, the worry always lingers that he might have dropped a step, but the outstanding quality of his new material and the lightning-fast dexterity with which he played it summarily dismisses that worry. Forget dropping a step; if anything, Al Di Meola has picked a few up, and is running like a track star.
(review by J Hunter. Photos by Andrzej Pilarczyk)