By Daniel Kohn
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Guitar virtuoso Al Di Meola is quite dazzling when it comes to technique. His blazing riffs exploded back in the '70s as a member of the groundbreaking jazz-fusion group Return to Forever, with his fretwork often defined by dizzying, slashing, solo turns. Over the years, the New Jersey-born Di Meola has ascended to more than a note-spinning phenom by pushing himself and his music forward.
As soon as Di Meola went solo in 1976 with Land of the Midnight Sun, he turned to exploring acoustic-based world music and a variety of intriguing musical hybrids. Perhaps his best early work was captured the following year with Elegant Gypsy, in which an acoustic-guitar instrumental ("Lady of Rome, Sister of Brazil") and gorgeous guitar duet with the great Paco de Lucia ("Mediterranean Sundance") let us peek into the places he was heading.
More nuanced material ensued, roaming from more understated, reflective compositions to spicy Latin-, African- and Middle Eastern-influenced passages, the kind you'd expect from such song titles as "Morocco," "Istanbul" and "Valentina." Di Meola focused a lot on Argentinean music during the '90s, beginning with Di Meola Plays Piazzolla, his warm tribute to the late tango master Astor Piazzolla.
Di Meola continues to man his creative rudder. Colorful, varied arrangements; experimental rhythmic syncopation; and a (partial) return to the electric guitar lie at the core of his new Consequence of Chaos, which features guest appearances by Chick Corea, Steve Gadd, Barry Miles, John Patitucci, and other longtime friends and collaborators. In fact, the recording's high point is the beautiful, emotionally charged Di Meola/Corea duet "Cry for Me."
While performing live, Di Meola—backed by pianist Mario Parmisano, bassist Mike Pope, drummer Tony Escapa and percussionist Gumbi Ortiz—has been known to improvise and occasionally drift into uncharted musical waters. And I doubt he and his fans would expect anything less.
Al Di Meola with Libre at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. Thurs., Nov. 30, 8 p.m. $29.50. All ages.