Al Di Meola - Elysium
(Inakustik Records INAK9141. CD review by Rob Mallows)
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.