Monday, August 1, 2011

Al Di Meola: Elegant Gypsy (Vinyl Review)

Released: Sometime in 1977
Reviewed: August 1st 2011
Label: Columbia

Side 1:
1. Flight Over Rio
2. Midnight Tango
3. Mediterranean Sundance

Side 2:
1. Race With Devil On Spanish Highway
2. Lady Of Rome, Sister Of Brazil
3. Elegant Gypsy Suite

My rating: 10/10

After falling in love with jazz legend Al Di Meola's debut album "Land Of The Midnight Sun", it was only appropriate that I gave his second album a listen. Thanks to Amoeba, the record store that never ceases to amaze me, I got myself a copy of it on vinyl for a mere 4 dollars. I found the vinyl in absolutely pristine and flawless condition, and I can safely say I can't think of anything better to spend 4 dollars on.

But even before I took out the disc and started listening to the music itself, it was a purely delightful moment for me just to feel the smell of a record that's several years old, and to hold the artwork in my hand. It's a piece of art that does complete justice to the album title and even though the front cover is nothing short of amazing, the picture on the back is the real gem, beautiful to say the least. This is one reason why I have gravitated towards vinyl, due to the sheer joy of being able to appreciate cover artwork as actual works of art, being able to see the details the artist wants me to see, on a piece of cardboard that's 9 times the size of a CD cover.

Moving on to the music, "Flight Over Rio" gives the album a magical start with a haunting yet peaceful and soothing beginning which then leads into the speedy latin jazz style of music that can be heard in plenty on the debut album. It's a very dynamic sort of tune, one that clearly indicates the musical progression Di Meola made from the first album to this one. This 7-minute bonanza gives way to the next track "Midnight Tango", one the most beautiful pieces of music I have ever come across. Devin Townsend's acoustic performance at this year's NAMM left me hypnotized, and listening to this tune for the first time was another experience of a similar kind. I never imagined the clean electric guitar sound to be as powerful as this, and to put it mildly, listening to this guy make the guitar talk is quite an overwhelming experience. Side 1 ends with "Mediterranean Sundance", which sounds exactly like its title suggests and turns out to be a brilliant exhibition of flamenco guitar played at lightning pace for major portions of the tune, backed by Paco de Lucia's acoustic guitar as he adds another layer to an already breathtaking composition.

"Race With Devil On Spanish Highway" starts off Side 2 and straightaway offers something different from the tracks on Side 1, presenting a sound that's bass-heavy to begin with. In fact it's the interplay between the bass and guitar that makes this tune stand out on its own. You could listen to this song countless number of times and I can assure you that you'll be amazed every single time. It leads into the next tune "Lady Of Rome, Sister Of Brazil", a title which aptly captures the Latin essence that's exuded by its music. The most amazing thing is the manner in which Di Meola presents the speed in his guitar play even in tunes like this where the overall rhythm is either very down-tempo or doesn't exist at all. It takes a musician of his calibre to make tunes that sound rhythmical even without much of a rhythm section. The album closes out with the Elegant Gypsy Suite, quite simply a masterpiece that can only be listened to and not described in words, so I'll leave it at that.

Overall, Di Meola certainly took his music to the next level with this album as compared to his debut, and emphatically so. Now I am even more interested in checking out his third studio album to find out where the music takes me.

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