January 1, 2009

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The guitar gypsy
Al Di Meola cultivates a world music sound
By Dana Unger dunger@hippopress.com

Al Di Meola had always been drawn to the sounds of jazz guitar, but growing up in the ’70s scene of discordant jazz fusion, it was a while before he realized that jazz guitar music could also be beautiful.

“That was the music at the time,” Di Meola said. “It really wasn’t until I was 19 that I knew there was a world of music being recorded that was beautiful, calm, and yet wasn’t New Age — it was intelligent music.”

Now one of the most respected guitarists in the world, Al Di Meola seeks to create that same beauty and intelligence. Di Meola and his ensemble, World Sinfonia, have just embarked on a new tour and have a new live CD, La Melodia, recorded at a show in Italy in 2008.

Al Di Meola and World Sinfonia will play a sold-out show at Londonderry’s Tupelo Music Hall on Sunday, Jan. 11, at 7 p.m.

At the age of 19, Di Meola joined Chick Corea’s legendary jazz fusion band, Return to Forever, leaving Boston’s Berklee College of Music to study and play with one of his musical fathers.

The new album explores the sultry flourishes of Argentine tango music, with tango guitar master Astor Piazzolla heavily influencing its direction.

“He’s really known for merging classical and tango music with jazz harmony for improvisation,” Di Meola said. “What attracted me was the wide range of emotions. That really connected with me. The music was heartfelt, so at my shows I always incorporate Piazzolla pieces into it along with my own work.”

Di Meola says he tries to keep that same emotionally evocative element to his own music, having always been drawn to jazz that contained a world music inflection.

“For me, playing that kind of music was a nice transition out of the harder jazz fusion stuff we were doing in the ’70s,” Di Meola said. “It’s deeper, more interesting, more emotional, and doesn’t tear your head out from the volume.”

Recently he has been composing and playing with orchestras throughout Europe, and he sees that continuing for the future.

“I’d like to do more in the way of incorporation for orchestrations in the music,” Di Meola said. “We’ve been invited to play with several orchestras, so to be more involved with doing that would be pretty cool.”