Guitar Great Al Di Meola
Goes Back to His Roots:

Bergenfield High School Receives a Benefit Show Boost
A SoundPress.net Archive Article by Rich and Laura Lynch

Back to Bergenfield!

Al Di Meola in Concert

That was just one of the prevailing themes contained in the evening's concert on January 13, 2009 when world renowned and award-winning guitarist Al Di Meola made an improbable return to Bergenfield High School to perform a benefit show at the New Jersey school where he graduated from in 1972. Other topics touched upon were family, friends, travel and - of course - music.

Guitar extraordinare Al Di Meola was born and raised in New Jersey, where he currently resides. Al is well known and respected for fast, flavorful guitar styles that run the gamut from jazz, Latin, Spanish, rock and world. Al is technically proficient and has influenced many musicians. Di Meola is an award winning solo artist and he has been picked Guitar Player Magazine's Best Guitarist on multiple occasions. He also has countless collaborations to his credit having worked with Chick Corea, Carlos Santana, Paul Simon and Steve Winwood - to name just a few.

Di Meola is on a roll as of late having reunited with "Return To Forever" (with Corea and Stanley Clarke) for a much acclaimed tour in 2008. The stop in Bergen County came in the midst of his globe-trotting World Sinfonia 2009 Tour.

Di Meola was in a good mood and reminisced about how Bergenfield was a great town for him growing up in the late 60's and early 70's, especially in terms of music. Name checked during the show was O. DiBella's - the shop that provided Al with his first lessons in accordion, and who arranged the evening's sound system. Wally's, the now defunct nightclub on "the avenue" where Di Meola's high school band Back To Earth honed their chops, was also remembered by event coordinator Joe Suarez during the concert's introduction.

Di Meola was invited on stage by Suarez at 7:50 p.m. and was presented with an achievement award from the high school. Also on hand was a handful of the school's teachers from 1972. Al then took a few minutes to address the crowd before inviting and introducing his talented and eclectic 5-piece backing unit New World Sinfonia, who Al called "the best group of musicians so far in my career" - to join him on stage.

New World Sinfonia includes accordionist and vocalist Fausto Beccalossi, guitarist Peo Alfonsi, of Italy, and drummer Gumbi Ortiz, of Cuba. The Di Meola tour continues with upcoming stops in Switzerland, Germany, Israel, Spain, and Turkey - to name just a few destinations soon to be graced by Al and his band of world travelers.

Al Di Meola in Concert

The core of the evening's two sets of music were dominated by acoustic arrangements of jazz infused Caribbean tango - selections influenced and written by Astor Piazzolla - a dramatic contrast to the electric work he was playing during the Return to Forever reunion.

The instrumental arrangements were eclectic and enchanting traversing a world of textures and tones. In the tradition of jazz, there were many musical exchanges with the accordion often at the forefront of the jams. Yet, it was Al who shined the brightest in a group of star quality players. Di Meola is a precise picker who plays passionately. The first piece was daring and dynamic.

Joking that the second song, a new one, referred to Washington Avenue, Al explained that the composition was based on Di Meola's experiences in Siberia. It blended beguiling beats with the second guitar gently adding chords to Al's fluid flow that melded into the treble technique. The song meandered through a medley of meters and moods that ranged from stark to stirring.

Throughout the night, Al played a distinctive cut out, cherry wood acoustic with gorgeous sound. He only pulled out the rainbow colored, custom Al Di Meola electric once during the show and even "Paramour's Lullaby" was subtly paced by paintbrush percussion. The song was delicate and dreamy enhanced by an echo effect. Returning to the acoustic, Al led the New World Sinfonia through an up-beat groove that had an island flavor enhanced by animated accordion, rambunctious rhythms, and feisty fret work, another tune that featured many tempo changes.

Al thanked the attentive audience that included teenagers and said what a real treat it was to be playing here. Moving into another composition the guitar chords cascaded into rich rhythms. The song ebbed and flowed from plucky to pretty with many time changes.

Di Meola performed some new numbers - one was the sassy "Happy" that was inspired by his longtime bandmate and percussionist who played a short solo during the song. Another was an instrumental written for his father called "Michaelangelo's Seventh Son". According to Di Meola his dad was one of sixteen children so the family roots run deep. The tune had an old world flavor blending with contemporary, concise chord structures. A colorful composition and tribute to Di Meola's dad.

Family was an important part of the evening's festivities with Di Meola introducing his daughter and wife - and he was filled with awe to be playing for his godfather - who was front and center during the night's two encores. At the end of the second set, the house lights went up and Al invited people to come up to the front. The band played a sentimental song dedicated to the people we miss. It was a poignant piece that was pretty and polished. Al mentioned that he often closes with that song but his spouse had recommended ending the show on an up-tempo note which is what the band did with a vibrant versed piece that had the crowd clapping along.

At the conclusion of the concert Di Meola described the performance as one the most fun shows he had ever played. The presence of family, friends, classmates and old high-school buddies surely made this a once in a lifetime event. Di Meola was clearly moved during the night and he stayed on site for an additional two hours, talking to fans and signing autographs - even indicating that he might like to do it again sometime.

This special performance was a benefit show with proceeds split between the town's Volunteer Ambulance Corp. and the school's Renaissance Program where students will receive flash drives to enhance their studies. Thus, a win-win for the town and those who had the privilege to witness Al Di Meola return to his roots, riveting the local audience with his signature, skillful guitar stylings.

Al Di Meola CD

Related Links: For more information on Al Di Meola and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links -- AlDiMeola.com | Buy CD

(Originally Published on January 17, 2009)

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