Sunday, 6 May 2007

Al Di Meola...

This one is for Gregg, who helped me to tackle a truly awful assignment with a fair amount of humour! Sometimes all I need is a way in to an album, and the rest of the review seems to follow. Finding any sort of a 'way in' to this particular review troubled me for nearly 10 days, but a throwaway remark in an email about Al inhabiting a world of rainbows and unicorns was all I needed to get me going.

I eventually managed to produce this lukewarm but (I think) fair review of the album, even turning a negative into a positive by steering people towards Terje Rypdal. I doubt that a review like this would ever stop the committed fan from buying an album, but if at least one person checked out Rypdal, who does so much more with far less, then I can be happy...

Consequence Of Chaos
TELARC 9CD-83649)

San Marco (moderna); Turquoise; Odyssey; Tao; Azucar; Sanctuary; Hypnose; Red Moon; Cry For You; Just Three Words; Tempest; Storm Off-Shore; Black Pearls; Africana Suite; San Marco (vecchio)

Al Di Meola (g, keys, perc); Chick Corea (p); Barry Miles (p, key); Mario Parmisano (p, keys); John Patitucci (b); Victor Miranda (b); Steve Gadd (d); Ernie Adams (d, perc); Gumbi Ortiz (perc); Kornel Horvath (perc).
No Recording date available.

Ever since encountering Di Meola with Return To Forever, I’ve quarantined him in a mental compartment occupied by rainbows and unicorns. You could say that I struggle to suspend disbelief and prefer my music real, but with this new release from (of all people) Telarc, I unexpectedly find myself reopening the door to that garish room. A sticker on the jewel-case tells us that Consequence Of Chaos not only boasts appearances from Chick Corea and Steve Gadd, but also marks Di Meola’s return to the solid-bodied electric guitar. From the outset, however, we hear him interweaving both acoustic and electric instruments.

The opening ‘San Marco (Moderna)’ is promising enough, a tempting portal into Di Meola’s fantasy world. As the album progresses, however, it’s soon clear that he hasn’t really added to a legacy that includes such landmarks as Elegant Gypsy (1976) and Casino (1977). The extreme vibrato of his electric guitar leads still adds a fitting degree of pomp to his grand-fusion themes, but the more interesting counterpoint is the air of Latin exotica that his acoustic instrument brings to the sound. ‘Red Moon’, featuring Corea, is a clear nod to the RTF days, and the pianist also shines on the tender duet ‘Cry For You’. Excited fans should note that these two tracks are the full extent of Corea’s involvement on the album. More typical are pieces wavering on the muzak borderline. ‘Azucar’ with it’s faux flamenco stylings, and ‘Tao’, where the leader’s electric guitar soars above some interesting progressions only to be dragged back to earth by the same homogenising synthesiser soup that swallows Patitucci’s talents, are good cases in point.

The book ending of ‘San Marco’ suggests an invisible hand at work, perhaps an aural travelogue, but any narrative implied by titling frankly fails to transfer to music which is high in production values but lacking in real drama and development. Fusion has certainly developed in some interesting ways - look at Terje Rypdal, whose continual renewal and need for self-challenge still produces outstanding work like last year’s Vossabryg (ECM). Di Meola’s latest effort, by contrast, shows a phenomenal technician lost in an ever-so-slightly stale mode of expression. Whilst some may rejoice at an apparent return to his roots, most of us can safely give this one a miss.

Fred Grand
(Jazz Review, March 2007)


GB said...

That 'rainbows and unicorns bit'? Yeah, that's a good call. Return to Forever? Hell, I'm not returning anywhere Al has been, he might still be greasily lurking...

Gary said...

Fred, all this time I never knew all this stuff about you! I agree with your Dimeola comments - he never actually did it for me - I didn't mind him with Mclaughlin and Paco Pena, but I'm not sure if that wasn't about the pyrotechnics rather than the real music. I've just written a post over at my place: and added a link to my blogroll - I'll keep checking back. Maybe we can grab a coffee and chat one day.