A Heady Mix: Exotic Rhythms, a Sizzling Guitar

Thursday, November 8, 2007

After Al Di Meola's concert at the Rams Head Tavern in Annapolis on Tuesday night, one fan was overheard telling another, "I really have to take guitar lessons. That was ridiculous."

No doubt several aspiring guitarists in the audience were awestruck by Di Meola's dazzling speed and precision. He arrived at the club with an acoustic nylon-string guitar and a trio that represented the latest offshoot of his World Sinfonia ensemble. In addition to his longtime percussionist Gumbi Ortiz, a master of Caribbean polyrhythms, Di Meola was accompanied by two Italian-born musicians: accordionist Fausto Beccalossi and guitarist Peo Alfonsi.

The Mediterranean recruits played a prominent role in coloring the performances, particularly when Di Meola's revealed his fascination with the music of Sardinia on "Umbras" and other pieces. Inspired by the guitarist's collaborations with the late vocalist Andrea Parodi, those performances offered lyrical contrasts to the percussive drama the ensemble often produced, as when saluting Argentine tango master Astor Piazzolla, and to the sweeping orchestral dynamics that distinguished a new arrangement of "Double Concerto."

Nothing tests Di Meola's mettle more than playing in an acoustic setting. He took full advantage of his guitar's cutaway design and extended range during chromatically escalating passages and when juxtaposing bright flourishes with resounding, flamenco-tinged chords. Ortiz, playing mostly djembe and cajon, was responsive as ever, powerful and playful by turns, while Alfonsi vigorously augmented the ensemble's rhythmic drive. There were several moments, however, when accordionist Beccalossi nearly stole the show with his deeply soulful rhapsodies.

-- Mike Joyce

© 2007 The Washington Post Company