Al Di Meola – Elysium (2015)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 01:05:47 minutes | 1,32 GB | Genre: Jazz
Official Digital Download – Source: Qobuz | @ Songsurfer Records / Valiana Music
Recorded: Churchill Studios, New Jersey; Park Studios, Tutzing, Germany; SuperSize Recording Studio, Budapest, Hungary; LAFX Studios, Hollywood, CA
On Elysium Al Di Meola is playing both electric and acoustic guitar, in the style that is uniquely Al Di Meola’s. Elysium features many new originals from one of the world’s greatest guitarists.
He came from the ‘Land Of The Midnight Sun’, sparkled on the jazz-rock stage as an ‘Elegant Gypsy’, came up trumps in the ‘Casino’ with all the right chords and melodies, and his ‘Splendido Hotel’ was the number one address for fusion fans around the globe. He finally achieved immortality together with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia on ‘Friday Night In San Francisco’. For guitar lovers, the name Al Di Meola carries the same guarantee of quality that Ferrari does for sports car enthusiasts or Chateau Mouton-Rothschild for wine connoisseurs.
Al Di Meola was born in New Jersey in 1954 to an Italian-American family, and from his early days as a rising star in Chick Corea’s legendary fusion combo Return To Forever right up to the present day, he has continually managed to refine his qualities: breathtakingly fast picking, skilful percussion effects the like of which had never been heard before, the effortlessness with which he can instantly switch from muscular axe-man rock to spinning gentle, romantic webs of melody. In the nineties, inspired by his love of the acoustic sounds of Latin America and the works of nuevo tango pioneer Astor Piazzolla, he made some delightful chamber music recordings with his group World Sinfonia. On more recent albums such as ‘Consequence Of Chaos’ (2006) and ‘Pursuit Of Radical Rhapsody’ (2011), all these penchants, influences and musical movements have fused into an unmistakeable sound: jazz rock meets world jazz. It’s a stylistic aerobatics display, circling up to dizzying heights reminiscent of the boisterous solos Al used to play in his youth.
‘Elysium’ is the climax of this process so far. The artist has arrived where he always wanted to be. He himself thinks of Elysium as a ‘place of perfect happiness’. A paradise where acoustic and electric components, triumphant rock and finely entwined jazz, delicate and pumping rhythms, guitars and keyboards, wide panoramas of rock and diaphanous carpets of sound come together in harmony. In this magical Elysium, everyone complements each other. Al Di Meola has brought together a five piece band with no bass. While he plays all the guitar parts himself, both acoustic and electric, including unbelievably fast and elegant riffs and effervescent rocking chords, three keyboard players and pianists provide shades of colour. This trio includes new recruit Philippe Saisse, who also contributes the composition ‘La Lluvia’. The others have shared musical accomplishments with their band leader going back decades. Barry Miles has known Al since the seventies. Mario Parmisano can be heard on recordings such as ‘Orange And Blue’ (1994) and ‘Flesh On Flesh’ (2002). Two new rhythm players have now joined the team: percussionist Rhani Krija and drummer Peter Kaszas. Both of them are wide awake and always right up with the beat. The gates to paradise for guitar aficionados are open to everyone with ‘Elysium’.
On the cover of Elysium, Al Di Meola is not wearing a shirt. He is, in a very real sense, stripped down. And stripped down is also the feel of this new album from the acclaimed guitarist. His new six-piece band – sans bass guitar – is the climax of a process of re-invention and fusion of genres that have marked out his recent career and brought him to a point where, as he says himself, he is “in a place of happiness”. The listener is likely to be too.
Elysium is very much a showcase for di Meola’s mastery of the guitar in all its forms against a distinct and sparse, but beautiful sonic backdrop. Playing all the guitar parts himself – acoustic, nylon, twelve-string and electric – it’s the different colour undertones provided by the three keyboardists – Barry Miles, Philippe Saisse and Mario Parmisano – which give this album a distinct watermark that is worlds away from the richer fusion moods associated with di Meola from his break-out sessions with Return to Forever. The album is characterised by a rich infusion of guitar sounds complementing each other, sometimes effervescent, sometimes hard and rocky, but all beautifully played: this is an album for guitar lovers, undoubtedly.
Without a bass, the drumming has a more subtle role, with Indian and other complex rhythms present at times through the inclusion of percussionist Rhani Krija alongside drummer Peter Kaszas, both of whom provide plenty of space for Di Meola’s fast and elegant riffing throughout the album, to the extent that sometime one can be overawed by the panoply of guitar sounds.
First track Adour is a gentle introduction, with a mix of acoustic and guitar sounds accompanying each other, it builds to a strong crescendo with many subtle ideas coming from each of the guitar tracks – quite beautiful. Cascade is structured around somewhat Spanish rhythms, perfect for the nylon guitar picking which is faultless. Babylon is a strong track, with Di Meola’s Les Paul drawing out some classic sounds and spiky imagery.
Title track Elysium has a pastoral feel with a soft rhythm and gentle introduction from his nylon stringed guitar, before picking up with some totally infectious strumming around a beautiful chord progression. Mario Parmisano’s dynamic piano matches Di Meola’s finger work for complexity and together they make this the strongest track on the album. Two halves of track Etcetera in E-major then E-minor, blend beautifully into a haunting ballad. Across all fourteen tracks, the breadth of guitar sounds and styles is significant and provides a platform to enjoy Di Meola’s playing to the full.
If I had a criticism of this album it is that across fourteen tracks, there is not a sufficient amount of variety in the overall group sound, dominated as it is by guitars, and I think the lack of a bass is noticeable (but then again, maybe that’s the point!). However, that’s more than made up for by the exemplary playing which demonstrates why Di Meola is regarded as a modern day guitar god by most jazz fans. Elysium is a showcase for a guitarist whose creative juices are flowing as strong as ever, and an album that certainly will offer something new for the listener on each subsequent listen. –Rob Mallows, LondonJazz News
1 Adour 6:45
2 Cascade 5:00
3 Babylon 4:07
4 Purple And Gold 6:00
5 Esmeralda 4:34
6 Elysium 4:21
7 Amanjena 5:14
8 Sierra 4:40
9 Etcetera In E-Major (Intro) 1:28
10 Etcetera In E-Minor 5:13
11 Tangier 3:32
12 Stephanie 6:28
13 Monsters 3:13
14 La Lluvia 4:27
Al Di Meola – Bongos, Cajon, Clapping, Cymbals, Drums, Drums (Snare), Guitar, Guitars, Hand Percussion, Percussion, Toms
Péter Kaszás – Drums
Rhani Krija – Cymbals, Darbouka, Djembe, Percussion, Shaker
Barry Miles – Keyboards
Mario Parmisano – Keyboards, Piano, String Pads
Les Paul – 2-Hole Flute
Philippe Saisse – Brass, Keyboards, Marimba, Piano, String Pads