Generally speaking, guitar wizard Al Di Meola has divided his musical attentions over the years between electric and acoustic, fusion and world music directions. This time out he splits the difference with some dazzling results. Coming off his short-lived reunion with Return to Forever, Di Meola returns to the solo spotlight with Pursuit of Radical Rhapsody, a strong and varied effort that moves mostly in the acoustic direction and features some high-profile personnel, including pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba and bassist Charlie Haden.
From the earliest tracks, such as “Siberiana” and “Michelangelo,” we recognize Di Meola’s signature stamp as a composer and player, as he freely mixes prog-jazz intricacies-multiple-meter structures, rapid-fire unison lines-with an underlying melodic romanticism. “Radical Rhapsody,” as it happens, is fitting as both a title song and a self-description.
Shades of flamenco, tango and folkloric styles from the Spanish Diaspora mingle with more archetypal fusion notions on songs like “Brave New World” and “Full Frontal.” But this is a fusion of another, highly personalized order. On many tracks we’re lured into an earthier sonic vibe via the unplugged riches of Di Meola’s longstanding World Sinfonia, featuring the ever-impressive accordionist Fausto Beccalossi. Di Meola exerts his usual fretboard flair and bravura throughout.
Toward the tail end of the album, Di Meola takes a sharp right turn with sweet-spirited covers of “Strawberry Fields” and “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”; down in the basement, Haden lends his lyrical, less-is-more voice. Sure enough, guitar slinger Di Meola has a softer side, too, as we are reminded on this delicately balanced outing.