Friday, October 16, 2015

Al Di Meola - 1977 "Elegant Gypsy"

Elegant Gypsy is the second album by American jazz fusion guitarist Al Di Meola. It was released in 1977 on Columbia Records.
Elegant Gypsy was a follow-up album to Di Meola's debut release, Land of the Midnight Sun. The distinctive music on the album is a speedy fusion of jazz and rock, with lightning-fast guitar riffs intermixed with lyrical acoustical passages. The songs include explorations of Latin music themes, including acoustic genres like flamenco
 Elegant Gypsy won an annual award for Best Guitar Album in Guitar Player Magazine.

Guitarist Al di Meola's second record as a leader is generally an explosive affair, although it does have a fair amount of variety. With Jan Hammer or Barry Miles on keyboards, electric bassist Anthony Jackson, drummer Lenny White (Steve Gadd takes his place on the "Elegant Gypsy Suite"), and percussionist Mingo Lewis on most of the selections, di Meola shows off his speedy and rock-ish fusion style. He was still a member of Return to Forever at the time and was a stronger guitarist than composer, but di Meola did put a lot of thought into this music. The brief "Lady of Rome, Sister of Brazil" (an acoustic guitar solo) and "Mediterranean Sundance" (an acoustic duet with fellow guitarist Paco de Lucía) hints at di Meola's future directions. A near classic in the fusion vein. 

Al Dimeola, at the time of this release, was the best fusion guitarist on the planet. (Mclaughlin lacked the energy that he had before Mahavishnu broke up and Holdsworth had yet to reach the great heights that he would find in the eighties). Dimeola is at his best composition wise as well as in his playing. "Flight Over Rio" and "Midnight Tango" are examples of this. Al and a Les Paul are meant to be together. "Mediterannean Sundance" is a duet with Paco DeLucia and a complete acoustic extravaganza.The guitar artistry displayed by both is unbelievable. This is a piece that can be listened to over and over. "Race With the Devil on Spanish Highway" is the electric extravaganza and a favorite of anybody that has heard it. Unison 32nd note lines are just a part of this Dimeola classic. The writing is amazing and Al has never sounded better. The rest of the disc consists of a percussion piece and then finally there is the title track which is another Dimeola masterwork. The band on this disc is incredible. Jan Hammer, Steve Gadd, Anthony Jackson, and Mingo Lewis all are phenomenal musicians in there own right and Dimeola has all of them playing at their usual amazing heights. If you are only familiar with RTF and are wondering why Al would leave them for a solo career this disc has the answers. A must have for any jazz/fusion fan or guitar enthusiast.

Al DiMeola was certainly the Jimi Hendrix of the 70's Jazz Fusion movement. And, this is his best disc from that period. Di Meola's music was also a precursor to the best World and New Age music of the 80s and 90s. Just because Jazz-fusion is out of fashion with the Jazz intelligentsia, doesn't mean DiMeola needs to be discounted. On the contrary, he inspired many to seek a new path for jazz's survival into the late 20th century and beyond. He also helped the uninitiated understand that Jazz is a cross-pollinating "bastard" musical form (in the best sense of the word) that is beyond musical category. I love Dixieland Jazz, Stride, Swing, Bebop, Afro-Cuban Jazz, West Coast Cool, Jazz Funk, 80s Neoclassic, Third Wave, etc, etc. I also love the best of Jazz Fusion. This is it! 

Back when I was in junior high school, I subscribed to Guitar Player magazine, and in their annual awards issue, Al DiMeola won best jazz guitarist and this album won best guitar album. I'd never heard of him or it, I knew nothing about jazz or fusion, but hey, 'best guitar album', what did I have to lose? What I heard simply blew my mind, it was unlike anything I was prepared for. It changed my life. It even changed the way I play guitar. Al DiMeola remains my favorite guitarist, and this remains my favorite of his albums. You absolutely cannot go wrong with it.

Tracks Listing

1. Flight Over Rio (7:16)
2. Midnight Tango (7:28)
3. Mediterranean Sundance (5:14)
4. Race With Devil On Spanish Highway (6:18)
5. Lady Of Rome, Sister Of Brazil (1:46)
6. Elegant Gypsy Suite (9:16)

Total Time: 37:18


    Al Di Meola: Electric guitars, acoustic guitars, piano, synthesizer, percussion.
    Paco de Lucía: Acoustic guitar (track 3).
    Anthony Jackson: Bass guitar (tracks 1, 2, 4, 6).
    Jan Hammer: Keyboards, synthesizer (tracks 1, 6).
    Barry Miles: Piano, keyboards, synthesizer (tracks 2, 4).
    Steve Gadd: Drums (tracks 1, 6).
    Lenny White: Drums (tracks 2, 4).
    Mingo Lewis: Congas, synthesizers, organ, percussion (tracks 1, 2, 4, 6).



  2. This has been a favorite since I got it on vinyl in 1977. Thanks for the handy digital version. I like almost everything I've heard from Di Meola --- but this one stands above the rest to my ears.

  3. Like Muddy I had it on vinyl since release - also it is my favourite along with 'Casino' the next one, jjp