Al Di Meola, Soars on Radical Rhapsody

Guitar titan Al Di Meola has been astonishing music fans since the mid-’70s, first as a member of fusion pioneers Return to Forever, and since, over the course of about 30 solo albums.
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Guitar titan Al Di Meola has been astonishing music fans since the mid-’70s, first as a member of fusion pioneers Return to Forever, and since, over the course of about 30 solo albums. His playing has only got richer through the years, as he’s incorporated more influences in his music, including Latin, North African, his Italian roots, Argentine tango, heavy rock; you name it. His newest album, Radical Rhapsody, gives a great snapshot of where he is today, with nearly all those influences present over the course of 13 originals, mostly featuring his five-piece World Sinfonia touring band, and then two wonderful covers—“Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and a fantastic “Strawberry Fields Forever.”

This latest project began at Di Meola’s Florida writing retreat (his main home and studio is in New Jersey), writing on nylon or steel-string acoustic guitar, then employing a Roland VS-880 digital studio workstation, which he calls “the perfect writing tool—I’ve probably had it for 14 years.” He’ll write parts for his band by putting pencil to paper: “I write everything out and then I record them first [using keyboard voices for the nonguitar parts] to see how it sounds before I do any actual recording. I’ll work with someone like Barry Miles to lay everything out and see how it sounds, and then make minor adjustments in the actual written parts.”

In the case of the new album, five of the songs are ones he had been playing live for some time with his group, so cutting the basics at Avatar Studios in NYC with producer/engineer Frank Filipetti was relatively straight-forward. The other tunes required more arrangement work at Di Meola’s Churchill Studio, as well as sessions at the Hit Factory in NYC and Henson Studios in L.A. with engineer Katsuhiko Naito, who has worked on and off with Di Meola for a decade. Naito comments, “His songs are pieces of art—there’s so much going on in them and he’s always trying new parts and new ideas, like a painter, so the songs sort of grow on their own.”

In the studio, Di Meola usually plays his Spanish-made Conde Hermanos nylon string guitar, captured with a Schoeps CMC 64 stereo pair “X-Y, pretty close to the guitar,” Naito says. “He has a nice-sounding guitar booth in his studio that was designed for that guitar, with a wood floor and some ambience.”

Di Meola also uses a Roland VG-88 guitar synth on his axe “for places within the composition where I need to soar,” the guitarist notes. “At that point, my nylon guitar has a pickup that enables me to access different sounds, one of them being a Les Paul through a Marshall. It really cuts through when the music gets thick. Then I can back off the pedal and go back to pure acoustic. But at no point do I eliminate the acoustic sound, so it’s usually a blend of both.” Jack Britton