Just got back from seeing Al Di Meola and band at the Kessler Theater in Dallas. A virtuoso performance with two nylon string guitarists, Al and his clever mate whose name is nowhere to be seen online, and two ace percussionists who also remain nameless, not even on the website which seems odd for these highly talented individuals that make up the band. The quartet plays songs in the instrumental style of flamenco, jazz, and world music. Chords you’ve never seen, speed you can’t see, but with some humble stories in between about The Beatles. Speaking in a New Jersey accent about being too shy to speak to John Lennon and being in awe of McCartney when he accidentally rented a house next door – to work on interpretations of Beatles songs, he came across as rather down to Earth despite his lofty skills.
I always thought he was from Argentina, both the cover of his second album Elegant Gypsy (1977) and his constant interpretation of Astor Piazzolla’s material, so hearing him speak in a defined Jersey accent was amusing. I bought this album when it was released and it has been a firm favourite on my turntable ever since. It’s never a style that I attempted to play, wanted to play, or had the skills to play but I admired it from a distance. At the show, Di Meola told about the time when there were no mobile phones and computers and the hours a day he spent practising instead, yes, we noticed.
He played two Beatles songs from his album Across The Universe (2020) that I bought recently. Norwegian Wood and Because had vague connections to the actual songs, a melody somewhere in there bookmarked by more jazzy speed trips but although he’s easy to criticise when it comes to the indulgent complexity of his work, what seems like gratuitous noodling and chords so bizarre that they are on the edge of being discordant, you allow him the space (not that there’s much) to carve out what he hears in his head, you don’t have to go and see him or listen to his records if you prefer The Clash. What is most amazing for me about this music are the rhythms, again complex but irresistible and executed with a percussionist from Spain with a full kit of things to hit. Also, a girl who came backstage in Peru who apparently so blew his mind in a jam that he immediately invited her to join the band. The other guitar player who I think was from Argentina was as much a virtuoso as big Al.
The show was sold out and I was surprised to see so many people so interested in such complex music that at times reminded me of avant-garde classical composers as much as it did jazz. Of course, there was no one under 30, and mostly everyone was over 40. As a non-drinker, I always wonder about the people who get up and go and get another drink in the middle of a song, breaking the spell. It breaks my spell too being shaken out of the moment by someone trying to get past you. I want to be in the world of the music, not the audience, obviously, Al needs the audience to vibe off, especially on this, his first show of the tour, the atmosphere is important. No problem but it made me think about the non-smoking rule and how it must have angered smokers whilst having non-smokers cartwheeling out of the gym. I’m not wanting to ban alcohol from shows but I’m sure a lot of smokers appreciate smoking being banned almost as much as non-smokers. Can you imagine that smoking in restaurants was normal? It was normal even if you chose to go posh and expensive to order a delicacy served by a trained expert in gastronomic fayre, cooked by a magician, and to then have smoke blown in your face as you eat it.
All in all, it was a great show by a surprisingly humorous and humble man with spectacular talent. Apparently, Chick Corea called him at short notice to join Return to Forever when he was just 17 after hearing a tape, his first gig, Carnegie Hall, his dad asked who is Chuck Corea and his mamma signed autographs as Al’s Mom.