Al di Meola and the Fusion Wars pt 1

Guitarist Al di Meola, recently of Return to Forever’s reunion tour, takes me to task for not knowing his most recent recordings — during WNYC’s “Soundcheck Smackdown,” which pitted me “against” Will Layman (of regarding jazz fusion’s legacy, moderated by John Schaefer.

Di Meola let it be known that he agrees that some of Return to Forever’s music is bombastic — and over-long! He describes 2008 RTF juggernaut as a nostalgia trip, fun for a while, but eventually not so much. He said keyboardist-composer-RTF leader Chick Corea, despite his vaunted interest in communication, didn’t pay attention to di Meola’s opinion that audiences didn’t want 20 minute unaccompanied solos and two-song second halves of concerts. 
Taking di Meola at his word — “My composing has grown, developed” — I’m going to give quick listens to his most recent albums, in “Fusion Wars part 2,” asap.
Subscribe by Email |
Subscribe by RSS |
Follow on Twitter
All JBJ posts |

Tweet about this on TwitterShare on FacebookShare on RedditEmail this to someone


  1. says

    I heard the program late in the day from the Soundcheck archive.
    When de Meola came on, he just made me uncomfortable and embarrassed. I cannot remember ever on Soundcheck anyone being as impolite and negative during a broadcast. Even when people disagree, they push the positives.
    If he had a real beef with you, he should have taken it up privately.
    HM: Out-of-the-comfort-zone, maybe, but we *were* talking about his music, which he’d performed at a rather high level. I don’t blame him for having personal views about what he’s done — they are, after all, the most authoritative.
    But this begs the question what a critic/commentator/journalist/opinion pundit owes to those involved with his/her topics. I felt I had done my background on Mr. di Meola, having seen RTF live last summer, hearing the RTF anthology released in ’08, also listening quickly to the just released RTF live recordings from the tour and seeing some RTF video on youtube. He questioned whether I’d heard his own recent albums, and I could only think of one or two about 8 years old. Because he bothered to contact the broadcast and offer some different take on his work,
    So I’m going to visit some of his most recent music, hear what he’s talking about. It won’t be that difficult or costly to get the music, but will take some listening time, and a blog posting to follow.

  2. says

    I’ve never been a huge fan of di Meola’s work, but check out ORANGE AND BLUE as a latterday example of some interesting playing. I would definitely agree with him that his playing is not particularly well represented by RTF, but at the show we attended together, Howard, Al seemed to be hamming it up as much as Chick.

  3. says

    I did hear you with Schaefer on the radio the other day. I’m glad nobody “voted you off” during the “Smackdown”…
    I loved that music at the time. In addition to whatever merit it still commands, I agree that there is an element of Boomer nostalgia in this resurgence of RTF. It was the first “jazz” I got into. Dimeola’s Elegant Gypsy must have led me to RTF, which led me to Miles, and then the rest of jazz. That was a time when my limited jazz taste was such that if there was an acoustic bass on the record, I wouldn’t listen to it (except for the random upright Stanley Clarke thing on a predominantly electric RTF record).
    So wow – the changes we go through as listeners. Bitches Brew was from outer space, and I tried desperately to like it and failed for a good while. Now I think I pretty much understand it and it’s an all-time favorite. When first encountering Kind of Blue in the late seventies, the challenge for me was to try and guess whether a sax solo was Trane or Cannonball! Interesting how the Dimeola RTF records sound dated to me, but that Bitches or even Miles acoustic records between 1955 and ’68 do not. Gotta check out your book…it’s on my list:
    Miles Ornette Cecil: Jazz Beyond Jazz
    by Howard Mandel
    I guess I had to get out of the car before Dimeola came on the radio Tuesday (??). Perhaps partly because of joining RTF as a kid, he’s been hyper-sensitive, almost eventually bitter-sounding in recent decades Re: the media and fusion and also especially radio play for artists working in the cracks between genres. With good reason.
    One last connection with the wider fusion discussion – Zappa for me took post-Miles fusion somewhere other than the ordinary, indeed “fusing” 20th C. concert music elements into the mix, and he never seems to get enough credit. Who’s heard Dimeola’s classic guest spot at a Zappa concert? I have it on a bootleg cassette…but damn if I didn’t find it online with a couple clicks:
    November 17, 1981, The Ritz, NYC
    “Frank wrote this song the day of this show for Al to play over. Frank wanted to release this performance officially, but Al refused because he didn’t think his solo was good enough.”
    Listening again, I still think it sounds like Dimeola was making a parody of himself (in response to the parody Zappa made of him on Packard Goose). I remember being delighted at the time with Dimeola’s ability to be a good sport. If he wasn’t (“my solo wasn’t good enough…”), then it’s into a really weird area. I’d hate to think Al wasn’t in on the joke.
    On another level, I think all jazz is fusion, and that unfortunately the noisy negative connotations of this “F” word obscures the deliciously impure lineage of jazz as a whole.