Al Di Meola and Gonzalo Rubalcaba at The Egg (4/7/2013)

16 Apr

Al Di Meola Ticket & LP

Above:  My ticket to the show atop Al Di Meola’s 1976 debut Land of the Midnight Sun.

I have to say that I’m glad that I subscribed to The Egg’s email list some months ago because I’m not sure that I would have heard about this show otherwise. Last Sunday night two legends of jazz in Al Di Meola and Gonzalo Rubalcaba played at the Swyer Theatre within The Egg.

It was this past Christmas when I strained myself thinking of a gift for my father, one that was thoughtful…and affordable as the man has taste that typically exceeds my budget!

Aside:  Truth be told, all he and my mother really want is to spend time with the family…at least that’s what they tell us.

I thought “Maybe I’ll get him a copy the catalog for the George Bellows exhibit” that was hanging at that point at The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  Thankfully my mother warned me that he had pre-ordered a copy prior to my charging one more item to my happy holidays line of credit.  As Christmas shopping time dwindled it became apparent that I had precious few options for a present outside of booze or arts & crafts (think macaroni necklaces not the furniture style).  I went with something that was more thoughtful than booze but just about as tacky as arts & crafts: a coupon for a event/concert on my dime to be named later; in other words, a Christmas IOU.

When the email blast went out some weeks ago for an Al Di Meola concert, I immediately recalled a memory from 8th grade.  My father, who had always pushed good music on me, be it contemporary or the records that he remembered from his earlier years, came into my bedroom one night after work holding a few cassette tapes.  One of those cassettes which I popped into the front of my SONY Boombox was Al Di Meola’s Casino.

After a few tracks my father explained that Di Meola is a “jazz fusion” guitarist.  I was familiar with the term “jazz;” I had watched a VH1 documentary which highlighted Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie.  I asked what made what we were listening to “jazz fusion.”  My father replied in so many words: “Just try and think of something in between jazzy guitar-work and rock guitar.  Everything that is going on here is more complex (which immediately resonated, particularly in the absence of lyrics).”  He told me, “The arrangements are usually longer, and they may seem all over the place at first, but with a few listens you’ll begin to recognize the songs’ structures; transitions will become more familiar and seem fitting or even appropriate.”  We listened to the entire album together that night.

With that memory in mind I purchased two tickets for last Sunday night.  Al Di Meola was no stranger to me after that night years ago; I was gifted a copy of Land of the Midnight Sun (shown above) on vinyl from a friend’s father.  I picked up Elegant Gypsy and Splendido Hotel from stupid garage sellers.  I am certainly no jazz expert, let alone a connoisseur of jazz fusion, but I figured that Mr. Di Meola accompanied by an accomplished pianist couldn’t be a bad time.  I bought us two tickets.

*     *     *

The Swyer Theater was the perfect size venue for the show; with a seating capacity of just under 1,000 there isn’t a bad seat in the house.  The concert was scheduled for 7:30pm and would have no intermission.  Di Meola and Rubalcaba humbly took the stage with some polite waves before sitting down.  Di Meola sat on a very economical chair positioned behind a pedal and a stand holding sheets of music that must have been four feet wide.  Rubalcaba postured himself rather calmly at the bench of a regal, black piano on wheels and unfolded his own panoramic sheet of music.  The stage itself was stark but was soon to come alive with the dense, instrumental arrangements compliments of the two jazz titans.

Gonzalo Rubalcaba was admittedly new to me but a welcome introduction.  I learned as he began to play that the man was 1) accomplished to say the very least, and 2) an Afro-Cuban jazz pianist who gave the jazz a worldly touch, complimenting Di Meola’s guitar surprisingly well.  Between songs mid-set Al Di Meola mentioned that he had first come been introduced to Rubalcaba’s work in a freezing touring van in 1987 and found his musical gift other-worldly.  He said that he hoped that they could play together one day and, though it wasn’t the first time, last Sunday they did.

The duo opened with “Siberiana,” a surprisingly warm and unsurprisingly complex fusion tour de force.  At times the two musicians seemed to be in alternative universes of the same composition, Di Meola’s rocketing crescendos paired with a staccato jaunt along the keys from Rubalcaba, but seconds later it was as if one musician was playing both instruments.  Di Meola jokingly quipped after the song that they would now try something little more difficult, but as the show wore on it became clear that he was only half kidding.

The two played for almost two hours with Di Meola leaving the stage for two solos from Rubalcaba and then vice versa before joining forces once again to close the show.  Di Meola included a few songs in the set off of his most recent tribute album to The Beatles.  The breakdown and jazzy reassembly of otherwise familiar melodies sometimes had me guessing for half the song which Beatles track it was.  Fusion as a genre aside, the cool ferocity and incredible dexterity with which the two musicians played was enough to astound any fan of music.  The set was impressive enough to call for two standing ovations from the audience.

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