Following the much ballyhooed Return To Forever reunion tour of 2008, guitarist Al Di Meola began refocusing his energies on his World Sinfonia band. Live in Seattle and Elsewhere documented his tightly-knit chemistry in concert on a 2009 tour with his acoustic ensemble of accordionist Fausto Beccalossi, second guitarist Kevin Seddiki, bassist Victor Miranda, drummer Peter Kazsas and Di Meola’s longtime collaborator Gumbi Ortiz on cajon and assorted hand percussion. Di Meola’s rhythmically-charged flamenco and tango inspired originals revealed his knack for advanced harmonies along with his embracing of simple, beautiful, alluring melodies. And although he may be a romantic at heart, he showed that he is still very much capable of flashing those legendary chops that graced his ‘70s classics like Elegant Gypsy and Casino.
On Di Meola’s latest outing, Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody, the guitar virtuoso and world music pioneer deals in more evocative and compelling sounds with his World Sinfonia ensemble, delivering hauntingly beautiful and deeply moving music from track to track. The collection kicks off with the entrancing, suite-like “Siberiana,” which opens with some tender call-and-response between Beccalossi’s accordion and Di Meola’s nylon string acoustic guitar before building to a turbulent section with searing electric guitar lines on top. On the affecting “Paramour’s Lullaby,” Di Meola takes a more deliberate approach on electric guitar, spinning warm, lyrical lines over the beautiful harmonies before engaging in spirited call-and-response with Beccalossi near the end of the piece. The rhythmically charged “Mawazine” (featuring percussionist Mino Cinelu) is broken up into two parts on the album and showcases some typically tasty electric guitar work by the leader.
The lushly cinematic “Michelangelo’s 7th Child” (featuring Hungary’s Sturcz String Quartet) has Di Meola utilizing subtle MIDI textures and colorations on his acoustic guitar while also showcasing some virtuosic runs. “Gumbiero” is a stirring Latin number underscored by Ortiz’s churning conga work. Sparks fly between Di Meola’s signature fretboard bravado on both acoustic and electric, Beccalossi’s facile accordion playing and Gonzalo Rubalcaba’s dazzling piano work on this spirited offering. “Full Frontal Contrapuntal” features some chops-busting unisons and intricate exchanges between Al’s MIDI-tinged acoustic guitar and Beccalossi’s accordion. The surging “This Way Before” and the evocative, flamenco inspired “Fireflies” both feature Di Meola alternating between acoustic and distortion-laced electric guitar licks. The stirring Latin flavored “Destination Gonzalo” and “Radical Rhapsody” both feature virtuosic contributions from pianist Rubalcaba and former Weather Report drummer Peter Erskine. The poignant “Bona” is a tender offering with the Sturcz String Quartet that features some of Di Meola’s most lyrical playing on the record. The leader also turns in soothing interpretations of two classic pop tunes, the Beatles’ “Strawberry Fields” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” both of which feature the great jazz bassist Charlie Haden.