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Al Di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke: Al Di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty and Stanley Clarke: Live at Montreux 1994

Filmed 10 years apart, these concert videos show the former fretboard flash with Return to Forever in typically dazzling form. The Montreux video documents an early gig with the acoustic Rite of Strings trio, featuring violinist Jean-Luc Ponty and Di Meola’s former RTF bandmate Stanley Clarke on upright bass. The other DVD, One of These Nights, captures Di Meola in a stirring 2004 performance with his regular touring band augmented by string quartet. The guitarist’s remarkable technique is apparent in both settings, but the full scope of his artistry is revealed in the more recent offering.

The chops-laden Rite of Strings establishes its virtuosic credentials right out of the gate with blazing unison lines and rapid-fire exchanges on the high-flying Stanley Clarke and Chick Corea composition “Song to John.” Ponty’s “Memory Canyon” offers a moody change of pace from that fiery opener while Clarke’s darkly beautiful “La Cancion De Sofia” suite provides some of the lyrical highpoints of the set. Each master improviser is accorded a solo spot–Di Meola performing “Summer Country,” Clarke reprising his catchy “School Days” and Ponty resurrecting the moody “Eulogy to Oscar Romero.” They reunite for Ponty’s soothing “Renaissance” before closing with Di Meola’s challenging opus, “The Chilean Pipe Song.” For an encore, pianist Monty Alexander joins the trio for a reprise of “Song for John.”

One of These Nights, filmed at Scala theater in Ludwigsburg, Germany, captures the guitarist-composer in more fully realized form with pianist Mario Parmisano, drummer Ernie Adams, percussionist Gumbi Ortiz and the Hungarian Sturcz String Quartet. Using a MIDI converter on his two acoustic guitars, Di Meola varies the timbre and dynamic of his sound from pure acoustic guitar to a more penetrating overdriven electric guitar sound while also triggering various other effects from woodwinds to sitars. The strings provide a real substantial, interactive function on this cinematic material, which is drawn primarily from Di Meola’s 1998 outing The Infinite Desire, 2000’s The Grande Passion and 2002’s Flesh on Flesh. And while Di Meola does play more orchestrally within each piece, cueing and conducting the ensemble from his upfront guitar chair, he also throws the chops-conscious fans a bone with bursts of his signature speedmeister technique, particularly in his whirlwind exchanges with conguero Ortiz on “Rhapsody of Fire” and “One Night Last June.” The dynamic set includes covers of two challenging Astor Piazzolla pieces, “Fugatta” and “Libertango,” and a show-stopping closer in “Egyptian Danza.”

Originally Published