Al Di Meola: Speak A Volcano (2007)

Kronomyth 27.5: LAST TANGO IN LEVERKUSEN. This is the Diabolic/Chaos tour live at the Leverkusener-Jazztage in Leverkusen, Germany. Despite being billed as a “Return to Electric Guitar” and the front cover image of Di Meola with a double-neck axe (which was apparently confiscated by German customs), Speak A Volcano is a balancing act between the electric, acoustic and classical aspects of Al Di Meola. The man is an absolute fiend on the guitar; the image that stays with me is fingers flying over a custom-inlaid fretbird. As a performer, Di Meola makes a great guitarist, which is to say that as a guitarist he’s not much of a performer. His chemistry with longtime associates Gumbi Ortiz and Mario Parmisano is clear, but it looked a few degrees colder on stage where Mike Pope was standing and Joel Taylor was imprisoned behind a wall of plexiglas. As for Di Meola, he spoke few words and, during the Piazzolla pieces, proceeded to place a big music stand between himself and the audience as if he were performing a classical guitar thesis for a roomful of professors. In fact, there seemed to be an invisible barrier around Al Di Meola all night. A warmer vibe apparently prevailed at the Tel Aviv show in April 2007 (which now featured Tony Escapa on drums), so perhaps time, temperature or both played a hand. What most impressed me about Speak A Volcano is the controlled pace of the show, which builds toward intimacy rather than intensity. Oftentimes, musicians will mix allegro and andante, old and new all night. Here, Di Meola starts out with hot electric fusion (including my favorite performance of the evening, “One Night Last June”), immediately slows the tempo down (“Azzura,” Piazzolla’s “Mi Longa del Angel”) and pauses for the playful “Hypnose” (featuring Al and Gumbi in an I-dare-you duet) before a reduction down to the essence of Al Di Meola solo. The three Piazzolla pieces function as a miniature classical performance within a fusion concert. Of the three, the “Double Concerto” with Parmisano is the most interesting, but the keyboard (a mix of piano and accordion) is too loud and inverts the natural relationship. The band then reunites for the recent “Tao,” highlighted by outstanding solos from Di Meola and Taylor, and then treats the crowd to the classic “Senor Mouse” (which, amazingly, no one in the audience seems to recognize). Despite the Senor’s cold reception, the band returns for an encore, “Fugata,” which presents Piazzolla in a full band arrangement. There’s nothing on screen to suggest this was an important concert in Dimeoladom, just a big gig in a cold place with a professional band. The disc also includes an interview with Al Di Meola that covers his career and playing style.

The Performance
1. San Marco (Al Di Meola)
2. One Night Last June (Al Di Meola)
3. Azzura (Al Di Meola)
4. Mi Longa Del Angel (Astor Piazzolla)
5. Rhapsody of Fire (Al Di Meola)
6. Hypnose (Al Di Meola)
7. Red Moon (Al Di Meola)
8. Tema De Maria (Astor Piazzolla)
9. Tangata (Astor Piazzolla)
10. Double Concerto (Astor Piazzolla)
11. Tao (Al Di Meola)
12. Señor Mouse (Chick Corea)
13. Fugata (Astor Piazzolla)

The Players
Al Di Meola (guitar), Gumbi Ortiz (percussion), Mario Parmisano (keyboards), Mike Pope (bass), Joel Taylor (drums). Produced and directed by Peter Sommer. Executive producers: Bernhard Roessle and Erik Nacken.

The Plastic
Released on DVD on October 30, 2007 in Germany (Inakustik, INAK-7002). Design by Jürgen Peschel.

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