Funny little electronic buzzes, thump-like noises, and the sweep of a synthetic string section precede the theme statement on what might be an electronic guitar, and then there’s the acoustic article, two drummers, and a backbeat and more of the electronic and the acoustic dubbed in support. Thus “San Marco (Moderna)”.
As di Meola says, there’s indeed counterpoint on the following track, “Turquoise”—a bit more two-guitar dubbing—but instead of the two drummers of “San Marco”, di Meola has here dubbed on percussion and cymbals, and Barry Miles’s piano, multitracked with marimba and keyboards for colour. That can seem overbusy, even rushed, and at the end there’s something like a vigorously-attacked lute.
“Odyssey” seems an odd title for a performance lasting fifty-six seconds, but maybe the title reflects all the journeys the man had to make in recording the different parallel tracks? The guitarist says that the six minutes of “Tao” mark “(t)he modern return of [his] love of playing electric guitar in a group setting”. Miles again plays piano and keyboards, and so does Mario Parmisano, with one drummer and Victor Miranda on bass guitar. Which came first, his playing or the group setting?
Beside the urgency of “Tao” (and I’m not sure there’s much more than urgency to it), “Azucar” is lyrical with Miles acting as a one-man string section as well as playing piano, and as on the first pair of tracks, there’s the upright and forthright bass of John Patitucci.
A preference for “Tempest” above most other things here does indicate that this reviewer prefers the uncluttered, though it has to be said that the statement, “This is the most complex piece originally written on my acoustic guitar (sic!) in the beginning stages of writing for this record” could have done with some text rather than music track editing. There doesn’t seem to have been any of the latter on “Tempest”, apparently just a straight-through performance for electric guitar, with Parmisiano on piano and keyboards, bass, and a couple of percussionists. The more abandon, the more invention?
Flamencoey Funk seems a more descriptive term than Funky et cetera for di Meola’s music. On “Tao”, the guitar lines unwind, with Ernie Adams and Gumbi Ortiz timing their contributions non-mechanically. Victor Miranda then manages the first stage of a transition on electric bass, the second stage being an increase in pace and tension with Parmisano coming in before a release into solo bass with Adams putting on some drum pressure as he does with di Meola’s definitive re-entry into electric flamenco.
“Cry for You”, featuring just di Meola’s acoustic guitar and Chick Corea guesting on acoustic piano, benefits somewhat from the pianist’s contributions of touch and phrasing. Yet even he can do only so much on a composition which really allows little basis for development. Other than maybe only “Tao”, none of di Meola’s themes here allow much scope. There’s hardly any effort at development here, the longer performances having been arranged and/or overdubbed to create some variety and cover for some lack of substance and/or repetition.
“Black Pearls” has a more distinct theme, and, like “Africana Suite”, does have oomph, and a beauty of guitar-playing evident also on the closer, “San Marco (Vecchio),” with Miles’s keyboards doing an accordion thing. It’s pleasant and lightweight, but elsewhere this set demonstrates sheer instrumental rather than improvisatory competence, more arrangement or overdubbing than composition, mostly craftsmanship to a high level. The gifts of the other musicians, and their deployment of them, are not, however, to be understated. It’s a very classy production.
// Notes from the Road
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