Al Di Meola and World Sinfonia, Society For Ethical Culture’s Concert Hall New York, NY, 1/10/09

Matt Franciscovich on January 13, 2009

Al Di Meola has been composing music and collaborating with other legendary musicians around the world for nearly 35 years, and 2009 is shaping up to be a huge one for the masterful New Jersey native. The world-renowned guitarist and composer is frequently described as a virtuoso, and on a snowy January 10 night, Di Meola and his new international group, World Sinfonia, proved why with an acoustic evening of music at the Society for Ethical Culture’s Concert Hall in Manhattan.

On a new live album released January 8 entitled La Melodia, Live in Milano, Di Meola and a few core members (Gumbi Ortiz – percussion, Peo Alfonsi – acoustic guitar, Fausto Beccalossi – accordion and vocals) of the newly formed six-piece take a turn in a new direction, performing (amongst other originals) versions of pieces written by groundbreaking twentieth-century tango composer, Astor Piazzolla – a major influence on much of Di Meola’s work.

The acoustic sextet took the stage at 8:15 PM. When the initially shy audience’s applause fell to an awkward silence, Di Meola’s comment of, “Why so quiet?” immediately drew enthusiastic shouts. He described the first song as an instrumental version of an original composition, “Infinite Desire,” and within moments, the crowd was mesmerized.

A darker, more urgent feeling emerged from Di Meola’s six-string while even his own band members seemed impressed by his skill during “Misterio.”

A version of “Cafe 1930” (a Piazzolla piece) referred to by Di Meola as just “Cafe” took the entranced audience on a romantic ride, mellow at first but ending strong with a powerful rhythmic progression.

While Di Meola adjusted his sheet music and tuned his guitar between songs, he addressed the quiet crowd: “Make some noise!” Once again, people cheered.

The dynamic tune “Happy” ended the first set. The guitarist’s fingers burned up and down the fretboard with immaculate accuracy and precision at every turn. The song climaxed with duel between Di Meola’s acoustic guitar and Beccalossi’s accordion before the group left the stage for intermission.

Anticipation grew as many in the audience noticed a tech tuning Di Meola’s rainbow-colored signature PRS electric guitar, but the group opened the second set with an acoustic “Oblivion.”

Di Meola picked up his electric only once the entire show for a slow and smooth piece called “Paramour’s Lullaby.” The tone of his signature model shot through the room at a sluggish tempo, and those hoping to see him shred on the electric seemed let down.

Di Meola brought the energy back up when he dedicated the next song to Ortiz, his longtime percussionist. Referred to as a new song, it featured the first percussion solo of the night and got toes tapping again. After the song was over Di Meola
announced, “That’s a little taste of our recording future…we like it!”

A piece entitled “Umbras” showcased Di Meola’s speed and drew the largest roar of the night, with a direct transition into a crowd favorite “Mediterranean Sundance” to end the show.

The six musicians took a group bow and made their way offstage, but only momentarily. Di Meola returned for an encore accompanied by only Baccalossi and Alfonsi (and a young girl, possibly his daughter, who merely sat on stage and listened) to perform their final song of the night. Described as a “reflective and beautiful piece” by Di Meola, “No Patho Reposare” was a quiet way to end an impressive night of music.