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Al Di Meola and World Sinfonia: The Grande Passion

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Since his high-energy exploits in the mid-’70s, Di Meola has proved himself to be a gifted progressive guitarist and composer, from his adventurous use of the guitar synthesizer to pieces for solo guitar and forays into world music, which includes a special interest in the music of Argentinean tango legend Astor Piazzolla. His latest recording is an ambitious project devoted to a combination of small group performances and orchestral works that feature members of the Toronto Symphony.

Di Meola surrounds himself with an international cast of musicians, including bassist John Patitucci, Cuban percussionist Gumbi Ortiz, Israeli percussionist Gilad, Turkish percussionist Arto Tuncboyaciyan, Argentinean guitarist Hernan Romero and pianist Mario Parmisano, and pens material that displays not only his own breadth as a composer, but also the band’s individual strengths. The kinetic small group performances include “Azucar” (with playful interaction between percussion and layered guitars), “Asia de Cuba” (a septet workout that combines Latin and more exotic elements) and Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” (with guitar, piano and percussion). But the album’s most stunning dimension is the orchestral material, which, except for Piazzolla’s “Double Concerto,” was written by Di Meola and arranged by Di Meola and Parmisano. Here the guitarist especially demonstrates his ability to create vibrant textures and intriguing moods that range from the exotic yet insistent pulsations of “Misterio” to “The Grand Passion,” which begins with a simple guitar motif and subsequently explores realms of melody and density.

Over the course of the program, Di Meola sensitively, deftly and sometimes aggressively wields acoustic guitar, but never at the expense of the composition or the other musicians’ space, adding a special touch to a milestone in an already illustrious career.