Al Di Meola World Sinfonia at Vancouver Jazz Fest
One does not simply attend an Al Di Meola concert, even if that’s what one’s intention starts out to be. To actually be there, in attendance, with Di Meola and with this band in particular, is to step out of both time and place and to leave all that you know suspended while you are instead brought into a kaleidoscope of new possibilities that continuously weave in and out of each other with such conviction and passion that you can no longer discern whether you are witnessing these as an observer or have been somehow magically integrated into this thing that you can no longer call a performance.
Al Di Meola World Sinfonia is comprised of Al's long time percussionist Gumbi Ortiz, Peter Kaszas on drums, Victor Miranda on bass, and the incomparable Fausto Beccalossi on accordion, along with Di Meola himself on acoustic guitar. As a composer, Di Meola has always shone brightest when he draws deeply from the wells of his own heritage and experiences as well as those of his compositional mentors. As a performer, he intensifies that very same light as he remains true to each piece as he plays it, whether during ensemble sections with the band, supporting another soloist, or soloing himself, be it lyrically or maniacally. For this reviewer, to focus on Di Meola the universally recognized master of his instrument without considering his substantial body of compositions and their influences and their intricacies is to miss the whole point of the complete artist that he most certainly is.
From the opening Misterio, through compositions such as Siberiana, Umbras, and a most recent piece dedicated to percussionist Ortiz entitled “Gumbiero”, the band shifted seamlessly between arranged parts and spontaneous and breath-taking improvisations. Both Di Meola and Beccalossi displayed, at times, staggering speed that left your mouth hanging wide open while at other times played with a romanticism, purity and beauty that instead left your heart wide open, vulnerable, and aching. As stunning as these excursions were, and they were stunning, they only ever enhanced and never diminished the compositions.
There are no common or catch phrases that can even begin to capture this evening’s performance. No single word, no play on words. This was 5 men who long ago mastered their instruments and who clearly love what they do and who they are doing it with, who also took delight in sharing themselves, their talents and these compositions with an audience that joined them from the first bar of the first piece and gave themselves over to the magic of musicality and passion.
As extraordinary musical concerts do, this one both went by way too fast and also lingers on long after the evening ended. This was so much more than a 5 star performance; this was indeed a number of complete universes, some of them being born right before your eyes.