I last wrote about guitar whiz Al di Meola a while back when I spoke about his tune “Mediterranean Sundance.” I mentioned there that he has been a force in jazz and fusion since at least the early ’70’s when he was a member of Return to Forever.
So when I heard he was appearing locally I grabbed a ticket tout de suite. Al alternates between acoustic and electric playing and this tour was billed as “An Intimate Acoustic Evening.” Frankly, I didn’t know if he’d be solo or have a couple of other guys with him but I didn’t really care.
But here’s the good part. After I bought a ticket, I got notified that Al would be doing a ‘meet and greet.’ Now, the only time I’ve ever done anything remotely like that was on my long-ago Allmans tour and that wasn’t even the point. But this was only 50 bucks extra and so I thought, you know, why not?
The show was at 8, the meet-and-greet at 5. So I made up some bullshit, got out of work early and headed to the show. I wasn’t even really sure what Al would have for merch(andise) so I brought a couple of CD’s and a Sharpie so he could sign them.
At the appointed hour, after hanging outside with about 25 (mostly) middle-aged white guys carrying 1973 albums, they let us in. Al has a very, very nice woman working for him named Laura, a real doll. She seems to really enjoy working with him.
We gathered around the merch table and were told that we’d have a choice of a picture of Al or one of his CD’s. Now, I’ll be the first to admit Al is a pretty good-looking guy but I’ll take a free CD any day. I asked Laura for her favorite and she recommended Di Meola’s Melodia Live in Milano. I’m glad she did not only because it’s terrific but also with one exception, was pretty much the same band we were to see that night.
Now I thought that the next thing to happen was that we’d be ushered in, shake hands with Al and be ushered out the door. But no, a magical thing happened. We went into the auditorium (maybe 3 – 400 seats) and they sat us down in the first couple of rows. (I took that picture on top of the post.) And Al and his two bandmates, Gumbi Ortiz (percussion) and Fausto Beccalossi (accordion) were up on stage rehearsing!
And so for a good 35- 40 minutes the thirty or so of us got a private concert. It was fantastic! They were actually rehearsing some tunes so Al would stop them and ask them to speed up, slow down, take it from a certain bar, etc. I tell you I have never seen anyone of this caliber rehearse before so it was an interesting insight. (Actually, I once watched the Mormon Tabernacle Choir rehearse in Salt Lake City but that was a whole different vibe.)
Here’s a little taste of what that was like (my seat here, right in front of DiMeola, was better than my show seat):
Al spent a fair amount of time explaining the tunes to Ortiz, his percussionist. “It’s his first night with us,” he explained. Which is a joke as he and Al have been playing together off and on for something like 40 years. This tour was billed as not only being behind his new album Opus but also as a celebration of the tunes of Lennon and McCartney. The only one I recall, frankly, was “And I Love Her.” (At a youngish-looking 63, Al is well-versed in classic rock, at least from a listening if not playing perspective.)
And so after watching Al’s show for a while, he sat down on the edge of the stage and started meeting the fans. I had a couple of things I wanted to mention to him like telling him I was going to blog about this show, asking him if he liked blues, etc. All that went out the window because the first thing I told him is that I had last seen him at the Newport Jazz Festival in 2011 and I recalled him bitching about coming on last.
“Remember that?” he said to Laura who was standing nearby. “Half the guys couldn’t get into the country.” I don’t remember that part but Al has a memory like an elephant. One guy brought him a poster from a show in the early Eighties at the Blue Note in NYC and he remembered it like it was yesterday.
Al signed my CD and the book of his guitar music that I bought and advised him I might be able to play some of in 30 years. He signed some other dude’s 1977 Les Paul which was already autographed by … Les Paul! (Who the guy had seen 37 times.)
Here’s the requisite picture:
(Al’s the ageless guy on your right; I’m the guy on the left who fits the description of – as a co-worker I had once used to say – somebody swung at and missed, shit at and hit.)
Let me say before I get back to the show that Al comes across as the regular Jersey boy (Berfgenfield) he is. Nice guy, still has that Jersey accent, likes tossing shit around at the guys. I felt like the whole thing was worth it but also felt a little bit like a dopey fan-boy, like I was in line to see Santa Claus and I had my five minutes.
Anyway, back to the show. It was an outstanding night of music. Al and the guys played two sets but I’d been up since 5:30 and only stayed for one. I mentioned that live album that Laura recommended to me earlier. Here’s a taste of that. Same players, minus a second acoustic guitar. The interplay, virtuosity, and versatility among these guys are outstanding. And whatever negative associations you might have about the squeezebox should be chucked out the window. This music is warm and romantic.
Now, Al did not play electric guitar that night. (And, to his credit, did not bring 800 guitars with him that he switched among. One acoustic/electric sufficed.) But I’m here to tell you that if you’re a jazz-rocker and Al’s 1992 album Casino is not in your collection then there is likely a hole in your soul. It is a terrific album and I’ve been listening to it quite a lot lately.
If you dug anything you heard here, I highly recommend checking out Al’s extensive catalog. At 63 – and with a two-year-old (!) daughter, he admits to being a pretty content guy who enjoys fatherhood and still clearly enjoys getting out and mixing it up with an appreciative audience.