On Friday I did what has become a tradition. I went to visit a person that has become as a guitarist , my main inspiration. Al DiMeola had a concert in Manhattan last nite in support of his newly released album, Consequence of Chaos. This album marks a return to predominantly solid guitar body playing and is in many ways reminiscent of his earliest work. I actually have not heard the CD yet i.e. besides what I heard at the concert. I did pre-order the CD the moment it was available but I did not want to spoil the surprise. I’m glad I did not. Dimeola manages again to compose fresh music that is imaginative and achieves that balance between strong melodies, contagious grooves and “spirited playing” and I mean the guy still has all of his chops.
The Ethical Culture Concert Hall is located at 2 West 64th Street right around the corner from the Lincoln Center and a little further down from the Shops at Columbus Circle. The place like most things New York is old and charming. It seems to have been a place of worship that was retrofitted for supporting concerts although I figure more in tune with classical type of music i.e. small ensembles etc. The ceilings are domed cathedral ceilings. I really don’t think that there was a single bad seat in the house both visually and acoustically. I was 5 rows down from the stage on the right hand side. Gumbi Ortiz was on a diagonal to me and I was able to see his articulate conga work perfectly. Al DiMeola was ten degrees down from Gumbi and I also had a perfect shot of him. The only time I was not able to see Al was when he sat down to play his Ovation during the first set. The chair was set back deeper into the stage than from where he stood when playing the electric, the result was that Gumbi was basically blocking my view. In anycase, they must have taken notice of that since in the second set the chair was brought up to the front of the stage and again everything was perfect.
The Ethical Culture Concert Hall is a venue that has natural great acoustics . On the other hand I think that it is probably a hard venue to manage for music that is amplified. The reason is that it has very decent reverberation due to the high ceilings but it is also a shallow venue and so the sound engineer really needs to be on top of it. Unfortunately, the mixing console was actually offset basically to the immediate right of the stage and I just don’t think that the sound engineer was hearings things well. The venue did not seem to be setup to support housing the sound engineering console in the center of the venue. The top of the set the guitar was a bit too muddy although not enough to not be identifiable. There were clearly some problems with the monitor mix on stage. Al had to cry out some directions a few times. They were certainly aware that they were in for some choppy waters since they actually had setup isolation partitions around the drummer. Don’t get me wrong. None of this detracted from the fun and excitement of the performance. As a matter of fact to me this can make it more fun. To be fair I may be a bit more sensitive than the average audience member just because I have had a decent exposure to sound engineering. It also got better and better as the night went along. At the second set, classical guitar solo piece rang out as crisp as morning air. By the time we got to the encores the sound of the electric guitar sounded just like the CD. Which reminds me that I should have tried to peek at what amp Al was using. As far as guitars he was using the PRS for his main electric, his Ovation series and a classical with a cutaway for which I did not recognize the brand. I’m sure a custom job. It also had this funny gizmo on top of it. I need to find out what that is. Maybe one of the guys at the forum will know. He did not play on a Godin Multiac Nylon SA which he has used on some of his Piazolla influenced albums, instead he used his PRS for some of the tunes such as those of the Grande Passion CD. One interesting note is that Al had a Les Paul with double horns and sort of a root beer finish propped in the back of the stage but for some he did not play it.
There was a good balance of new material with old which I appreciated. There was also a good balance between electric guitar playing and acoustic. That suits me fine as well. Some fans prefer one Dimeola “genre” over the other i.e. acoustic work over electric. I like them both. One thing though, is that when I go to a concert I prefer to listen to the familiar more. Then again , I heard a couple of new tunes which I liked quite a bit which I assume are from the new album. Not that I need any convincing, at this point I buy DiMeola albums without pre-screening them.
Gumbi was as always at the top of his game and having so much fun. As far Al , after something like twenty albums he is as good as he ever was . What I admire about Dimeola is not just his chops but how he uses his chops. DiMeola does not use technique just for the sake of technique. He makes it work with the tune. Granted his music is about “spirited playing” , about the energy but it is about music, and he grooves. That’s hard to find. He also is not afraid to experiment with his compositions. I think that one of the advantages of that is that an artist is bound to find a wider audience. For example, I think that the move to acoustic work i,.e. the World Sinfonia and Piazolla influenced albums brought in a set of different fans.
I guess when I think back on the show last nite that there are a couple of things that linger with me. One is that Al thanked his fans for following him for the last eighteen years. He did that twice. I remember thinking, wow, that really feels like he meant it from his heart. People often say many things but its not often that one totally believes. The other thing he said was that “fusion lives”. I believe that its true and a lot of that has to do because you Al keep cranking out albums. I also hope that fusion will live because you inspire others to compose and express themselves.
Conclusion, great show. I’m re-charged with inspiration. Right on time too, because I have to get off my ass and get back on track with my stuff. By Monday of the following week the “ultimate” digital audio workstation I ordered should be delivered. That’s just a necessary part of getting my project together. I’ll blog about my research in the quest of the ultimate DAW soon.