Al Di Meola celebrates 40 years of Elegant Gypsy

A pioneer of jazz and world fusion music returns to Montreal to perform his recent album, Elysium

Taking us around the world, one song at a time, is jazz-Latin fusion guitarist and composer, Al Di Meola. Known for blending world music and jazz, Di Meola explores the rich influence of flamenco, tango, Middle Eastern, Brazilian and African music. He is currently touring across North America, performing his most recent album, Elysium. This tour is also a celebration of the 40th anniversary of his record, Elegant Gypsy. The eclectic guitarist will be performing in Montreal on Feb. 25 at Salle Pierre Mercure. Joining him on his tour is Philippe Saisse on keyboards and marimba, Gumbi Ortiz on percussion, Elias Tona on bass, Luis Alicea on drums and violinist Evan Garr.

Di Meola has already performed 11 shows across different cities in the US—the tour began on Feb. 7. He said this tour has been better than his previous ones. “This is the best edition of the band. I put a lot of time into the rehearsals,” Di Meola said. “This isn’t a jam session—it’s people getting the best of fusion, and a lot of work goes into it.” This won’t be Di Meola’s first time performing in Montreal. The Montreal Jazz Festival awarded him the 2015 Miles Davis Award, which honors a great international jazz musician for the entire body of his or her work and that musician’s influence in regenerating the jazz idiom.

Growing up outside of New York City exposed Di Meola to a melting pot of different ethnic music. “My love of Latin music goes on since I was a kid. We had great choices of music, I went to many rock shows, I saw everyone under the sun,” Di Meola said. At 19, his international music career began when he joined a fusion quartet. By chance, a friend of Chick Corea—an American jazz and fusion pianist, keyboardist and composer—sent Corea a tape of Di Meola’s quartet’s live performances. Corea then hired Di Meola in his fusion supergroup, Return to Forever.

Portrait of jazz/Latin fusion guitarist and composer, Al Di Meola. Photo by Erin Cook (Jensen Team).

“Having the good fortune of being 19 years old and touring Europe and getting turned on by other ethnic music from France and Spain—it opened my world,” Di Meola said. Touring in South America, he said, also brought new influences to his music, such as tango. “What you get out of Brazil is so rich. When we are in a certain kind of teenage period, we absorb everything,” Di Meola said. His music teacher also helped him develop his musical style. “I was drawn to popular music, but my teacher was a classical, old-school jazz player. That gave me the best of both worlds,” Di Meola said.

Over the past four decades, Di Meola has released more than 20 solo albums and a dozen collaborative records with the Return to Forever supergroup, John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia’s acoustic guitar group, and the Rite of Strings band

Al Di Meola’s music goes deeper than words could ever express. Photo by Erin Cook (Jensen Team)

with bassist Stanley Clarke and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty. According to Di Meola, his most recent album, Elysium, was written during a difficult period in his life. “What kept me sane was taking the advice of a couple of friends who said I should write music as a way to channel the pain that I was going through,” he said. He locked himself in the studio and played and wrote music, which he said took his mind off the negatives. “What came out from my guitar, as different and strange as it sounded, I wrote it down. Personally, things started to change. I went from one extreme to another, which explains the title of the album, Elysium, which is a beautiful place to be,” Di Meola said. Elysium was written through the experience of automatic writing, he said. “It was like forward motion, no stalling. By doing that, I came up with a ton of stuff.”

At first, Elysium was meant to be an all-acoustic album, until Di Meola decided to play electric guitar again. “The electric guitar gave it a little twist—it’s a very different record than my previous ones,” he said. Di Meola’s key for remaining productive can be summed up in one sentence: “The rule in my life is to never watch TV without a guitar in my hand,” Di Meola said. Sometimes, he said, it is when you are not completely focused that you can come up with things that are unusual.

Di Meola is looking forward to being back in Montreal this Saturday. “Montreal is probably my favourite place to play because I have always felt welcome here. There is a very strong community that appreciates fusion music. I am really excited to play with this band,” said Di Meola.

Di Meola’s show takes place on Saturday, Feb. 25 at 8 p.m at Salle Pierre Mercure. Tickets are available online. Regular tickets start at $69.00

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