Tuesday, December 27, 2011

DVD Review: Al Di Meola: Morocco Fantasia

Text © Robert Barry Francos/FFanzeen, 2012
Images from the Internet

Al Di Meola: Morocco Fantasia
Cinematography by Francesco Cabras and Alberto Molinari
Produced by Claus Altvater and Al Di Meola
In-akustik, 2011
123 minutes, USD $19.95


Al Di Meola (nee Al Dimeola) certainly has come along way from his native New Jersey to the stage of the Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco, where this DVD was filmed on May 20, 2009. But there’s no need to question why.

In modern jazz circles, Di Meola is among the most respected guitarists in the world, with lightening speed fingers playing in scale style. Within the first minute, the awe of the viewer is bound to be apparent, as he races around his Conde Hermanos, all the more impressive considering the broad neck and wide space between each string. The thin-body acoustic guitar has a solid flamenco flair.

Di Meola is backed by his band, the World Sinfonia, consisting of accordion (Fausto Beccalossi), second guitar (Peo Alfonsi), bass (Victor Miranda), percussion (Gumbi Oritz), and drum (Peter Kaszas), who dazzle as they sound like sparkles reflecting on the water, dancing around the sounds they produce.

Because of the length of the songs, ranging from 8 to over 21 minutes, they get a chance to all play in ways that each musician is highlighted at different moments. The sound is incredibly crisp and the cinematography is phenomenal, as we see all the musicians intercut with scenes of the immediate surroundings, local nature (e.g., birds, fauna), and all around Rabat. The listener can also just close your eyes and escape in the sounds. Fortunately, there is no interference as musically the concert plays through with no sound interruptions other than rounds of applause between each cut.

If I was to categorize the sound by the style of music they play, I could say adult contemporary jazz. Definitely something you’d hear a lot on the lite jazz station; incredibly well executed, yet light on the ear. All but one of the songs are originals, and all have both intense and soothing variations of rhythms, tempos, and melodies. It seems appropriate that much of the feel is heavily Arabic influenced, and with the thanks to an almost upfront accordion, there is also a French flavor.

For the two encore songs, guest musicians come onstage, including Said Chraibi (oud), Abdellah Meri (violin) and Tarik Ben Ali (Percussion). They give an even more Arabic seasoning to the mix.

In the extras, there are two more pieces with just Di Meola, Chraibi, Meri and Ali, totaling 21 minutes. For one of these, Di Meloa plays his multi-colored electric guitar, something he rarely does these days due to a bout with tinnitus.

In all these songs, everyone seems to be mostly having a good time. Mostly?

Here’s the thing: I don’t know Al Di Meola personally, but my impression here is that he is a demanding and perfectionist taskmaster with an incredibly large ego. Looking a bit like Russell Crowe with his beard, every so often you can see him snatch a look at someone in the Sinfonia as if they did something wrong. I admit I could be misreading this, but that’s what is left with me. It’s during the extras, though, that I started to get just a little creeped out.

They show some of the rehearsals, and he is snapping at some of the members of his band, and even comments at guest violinist Meri, “Tap your feet! Don’t stop! In your life!” Brrrr. It makes me wonder if there is any room for improvisation during the performance from the rest of the World Sinfonia. After all, what makes jazz great are the jams, not just the orchestration. In another couple of bonus clips, Di Meola plays in a local street bazaar with a couple of street musicians, and he while starts off backing, then seems to take over as if he had to have the last word or take the gathering’s applause for himself.

That all being said, part of the soundcheck is another extra included, of which the best part is the pieces backstage. At one point a staff member makes a jokingly disparaging remark about Mr. Al, not knowing he’s right behind her. Pointed out, she jumps, and he stares at her for a moment and points a finger in a “watch it” tone, but it seems more light than threatening. I liked him at that moment, and wonder if I was wrong...

As with other Inakustik DVDs I’ve seen, the cinematography is stunning beautiful (both the stage work and the extraneous shots around the venue), the sound is incredibly crisp for a live show, and the packaging is lovely with booklet and photos.

Song Listing:
Double Concerto
Michelangelo’s 7th Child
Egyptian Danza

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