An Interview with Al DiMeola
The Grande Passion of
by Paula Edelstein
Sit back and relax with the gloriously lush music of Al Di Meola and his acoustic group, World Sinfonia. The guitarist extraordinaire offers an event with the ring of history-in-the-making on THE GRANDE PASSION and it is perfect. Accompanied by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Fabrizio Festa, Al Di Meola is compelling on nine brilliant songs produced and arranged by the master guitarist. The six originals written by Al Di Meola and three compositions by the late Argentine tango genius, Astor Piazzolla, comprise some of the most beautiful illuminations of Di Meola’s talent in this period of his musical life. He is magnificent, pulling from his guitar everything it is capable of, balancing poetic and dramatic orchestral strings and woodwinds, all the while fully engaging the listener in a multi-hued program of beautiful tone colors, world rhythms and his GRANDE PASSION.
World Sinfonia, comprised of Hernan Romero on acoustic guitar, Gumbi Ortiz and Gilad on percussion and Mario Parmisano on acoustic piano, provide remarkable agreement for Al Di Meola. Their Argentine, Cuban and Middle Eastern musical influences, inflections of phrasings, and their rhythmic diversity all emerge in a beautiful array of stylistic grace that will enamor your musical senses from the moment you first experience their glow. Their impressive techniques and creative abandon is there and at first listen you’ll understand why Al Di Meola has described them as his “best group by far in my career.” Having said that, we were fortunate to speak to the great Al Di Meola as he prepared for his world tour with World Sinfonia.
JazzUSA: Congratulations on THE GRANDE PASSION! It is absolutely stunning and provides a thoughtful and comprehensive representation of both your individual guitar genius and compositional integrity in a symphonic setting that defies conventional categories. A few preoccupations came to mind and I’d appreciate if you’d discuss a few of them for your many, many, online fans!
AD: Thank you. Certainly.
JazzUSA: All musicians worth hearing during and beyond their time keep experimenting and growing as their music deepens its hold on the listener. Did you arrive at most of your compositions for THE GRANDE PASSION through this kind of experimentation and growth as opposed to sudden inspiration?
AD: It’s a continuation of World Sinfonia type format, where it’s a combination of my own music in an acoustic setting with also my own versions of some Piazzolla work. Since my association with Astor back in the 80s, it added a lot of dimension to my compositional skills and my outlook for music. I think the emotional side of music is more appealing to me now than the technical side was in the 70s. But at the same time, I have to say that both elements are equally as important for an instrumentalist…especially my direction right now. I want to be moved. I want to feel it in the heart as well as I want the music to be intelligent. That’s what I look for when I’m writing.
JazzUSA: It’s absolutely beautiful. Your career has spanned a wide range of emotions and includes many styles that embody your world travels and influences. The essence of tango comes to mind at once on the WORLD SINFONIA debut and HEART OF THE IMMIGRANTS and now, you’ve continued your appreciation of Astor Piazzola by including three of his songs on THE GRANDE PASSION. Do you feel that using a symphonic approach to the Tango has broadened its appeal around the world?
AD: Well, I don’t know….As a composer, it’s so much more “deep” to have the symphony re-create the instruments that I originally wrote. When I write, I re-create what the symphony is going to play, before it comes out. Then we re-create it with the symphony later and it definitely added a much deeper layer.
JazzUSA: Your acceptance as both prolific composer and virtuoso performer continues to be demonstrated by the many prestigious guitar awards you’ve received including holding the distinction of having more awards from Guitar Player Magazine than any other guitarist in the world! Of all the approaches you’ve used, i.e. that is solo, guitar trios, Brazilian rhythms, symphonies, etc., which approach has been the most fulfilling personally?
AD: I think this approach! I think the acoustic format, playing my own music. Especially at this level right now because I’m thinking more like a composer. There are a lot of elements, color wise in the music, as compared to years ago when we didn’t have that many colors to deal with. And also, to write for the symphony was quite a challenge, it was a dream of mine for a long time. So, in that regard, it’s definitely a new turn.
JazzUSA: It seems like there’s a trend among many artists of more thoroughly composed songs, and the addition of symphonies as a backdrop, as opposed to the traditional head-solo format. In addition to your work with World Sinfonia, I’m thinking of composers like Vince Mendoza with The Netherlands Metropole Orchestra, and Jeff Beal with the Berkeley Symphony, among others. Do you see a pattern here?
AD: I actually do because, I think a lot of us have exhausted a lot of the sounds that you might get from keyboards, you know, and we’re looking for something deeper, more meaningful to give our music more meaning and depth and the orchestra definitely provides that. Plus, a lot of orchestras are also getting a little bit tired of playing the same classical format and really do look for something new to play. Especially in a “live” situation. And that leads us to what I’ll be doing next year. I’ll be doing a lot of these shows with symphony orchestras. In fact, the first round will happen at the end of October 2000. I have three shows re-creating this music with orchestra and poem. (For exact dates, go to http://www.telarc.com)
JazzUSA: That’s going to be great! Fantastic!
AD: Yes, it’s going to be nice.
JazzUSA: I can imagine it will. You’ve described World Sinfonia 2000 as the “best group by far in your career.” Had you been writing these compositions for THE GRANDE PASSION and Sinfonia in mind even though you were experiencing remarkable success with Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin on FRIDAY NIGHT IN SAN FRANCISCO and later with Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke on RITE OF STRINGS in a trio format?
AD: Well the trio format, I wrote specifically with them in mind. With this music, it’s specifically for Sinfonia. Definitely.
JazzUSA: Who are some of the contemporary artists you like in the tradition of guitar trio now?
AD: I like the work of Gismonti, a lot. We are talking about doing something together.
JazzUSA: That would be great! On THE GRANDE PASSION, you also cover the music of Astor Piazzolla. Please discuss how you chose those three particular songs?
AD: “Double Concerto,” was a piece that doesn’t really appear on any of his records, except for maybe one. There was “live” recording…a debut recording of that piece in a “live” setting. But, out of all of his records, where you might normally find that piece, it wasn’t part of his repertoire. I wanted to give it a different slant, rhythmically. So we came up with this version and added symphonic parts to it that weren’t originally written. Then you have “Soledad,” which is a very popular piece in his repertoire. It’s just one that I found to be very emotional. I just had to do…had to do my own version of it. “Libertango” is one of his hits in the Tango world and it’s just a fun one to play! In fact, it’s a great opener for the set.
JazzUSA: Absolutely. How do you feel you’ve improved as a composer for World Sinfonia since your first and second records?
AD: Well, my vision has gotten a lot wider and deeper with the inclusion of writing for the symphony and with that in mind, I’m thinking more orchestral.
JazzUSA: “The Grande Passion” has sprung forth. It’s so romantic, sensuous, and beautiful. I can’t describe it. It’s absolutely gorgeous. The magnificent crescendos, the lush sweeping strings underneath.
AD: Yes, it really has. If the melodies can move you and touch you, it says a lot. But, if what’s underneath all of that, harmonically and rhythmically, is interesting, then you’re saying a lot. A lot of who you’re about. You, know what I mean?
JazzUSA: Absolutely! Absolutely!
AD: Music speaks a lot deeper than words can ever speak.
JazzUSA: It certainly does.
AD: When you can reach that level, then you have artistic satisfaction to the max!
JazzUSA: You certainly have reached through because THE GRANDE PASSION is absolutely gorgeous!
AD: Thank you so much.
JazzUSA: What’s your last word on practicing, composition and performance? We just want to pass that on to some aspiring children and students that don’t want to do their homework!
AD: Practicing. I think there’s contentment when you practice. When you can get away from everything and just have your instrument and just experiment, or practice the scales or whatever, I find that to be calming. I love that! I love to get away from everybody and just do that. Composition is the most satisfying thing you can do. To see something grow from a seed and hear in the end, something that somehow resembles your personality or who you really are…if that can come out in that composition, your feelings coming out in that composition, and have other people feel it, then it’s the ultimate satisfaction. Not all of us get there. There’s a process in order to get there too. I’m getting closer to it and this record is definitely a step.
JazzUSA: Certainly. As far as performing now, do you feel more fulfilled from the ovations received from your audiences now?
AD: I’m feeling it deeper for sure. It’s definitely more of a “fine arts” type of acceptance (laughs) than the hysteria of the past. The extreme volumes and that kind of pace don’t have the same appeal.
JazzUSA: I must admit I used to be in those hysterical audiences…but can assure you that we’ve mellowed for sure! I imagine that’s its from the artistic growth and sense of satisfaction that you’ve achieved at a different level. We understand and many of us that have listened to your music throughout the years and watched and listened to you grow and expand, we’re so very appreciative and we certainly appreciate the great, great music and friendship that you’re shared with the world.
AD: Thanks Paula. I appreciate your support.
JazzUSA: It is our pleasure. Thank you for the interview and once again, congratulations on THE GRANDE PASSION, one of the most astonishingly beautiful listening experiences ever. Ladies and gentlemen, Mr. Al Di Meola. For tour and related information on the great Al Di Meola and World Sinfonia, you are invited to visit http://www.telarc.com