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Al Di Meola - Land Of The Midnight Sun CD (album) cover


Al Di Meola


Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.96 | 173 ratings

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4 stars This guy symbolizes a perfect demonstration of the adage "never judge a book by its cover" because if you met the bearded Al on the street you'd most likely think he was a math professor at the local college rather than one of the best jazz rock/fusion guitarists ever. Maybe if he looked more like John Petrucci he'd be more of a recognizable icon but that's beside the point. Those of us who heard and marveled at his playing on the various Return to Forever LPs in the early 70s knew he was a super-talented musician who didn't seem to have any limitations on what he could do so, when he released his first solo album in 1976, most of us expected to be completely blown away. Turns out that he hadn't quite found his footing yet but for a debut effort "Land of the Midnight Sun" was more than satisfactory, to say the least.

Surrounding yourself with primo personnel doesn't hurt one bit and the opening song by Mingo Lewis, "The Wizard," wastes no time in setting a torrid pace with Mingo slapping the conga skins like greased lightning and none other than the fabulous Steve Gadd kicking serious tail on drums. Lewis provides the decent keyboard work, as well. It's one of the most melody-driven tracks on the album and it gives Al ample opportunity to show he can shred the fretboard with the best of 'em. This boy is FAST! The tune works well as an introduction number to grab the listener's attention, that's for sure. The nine-minute "Land of the Midnight Sun" has the familiar feel of Return to Forever due in no small part to the participation of Lenny White on drums. As do all excellent jazz-motivated rock tunes, this cut has mood-shifting dynamics throughout with very smooth passages gliding between the busier segments. Al demonstrates his swift muted-string technique flawlessly on his first ride, then cranks it up to deliver a fierce, screaming solo reminiscent of John McLaughlin's attacking style on his second. Overall it's a highly intricate, involved piece of music that's very impressive.

Next comes a 180-degree change-of-pace as DiMeola performs Bach's "Sarabande from Violin Sonata in B Minor" on the acoustic guitar. It's a brief but effective way to show his ample versatility. "Love Theme from 'Pictures of the Sea'" is another short composition where he reveals his calmer, more sensitive side. Other than Stanley Clarke on bass, Mingo Lewis on percussion and Patty Buyukas' ethereal background vocal it's all Al from the multiple guitars to the synthesizers to the lead vocal and even the chimes. Unfortunately it's also the weakest tune on the album so the fact that it's less than two and a half minutes in length is one of its strong points.

"Suite - Golden Dawn" is more along the lines of what we paid our hard-earned moola to hear. The rocking beat and complex riffs of "Morning Fire" and the lighter touches of "Calmer of the Tempests" quickly lead you into the wild, impossibly funky groove of "From Ocean to the Clouds" where the clever interplay between Al and bassist extraordinaire Jaco Pastorius will spin your head around in circles. A hot jam session ensues with DiMeola sparring back and forth with keyboard man Barry Miles but it's quite obvious that the latter hasn't a snowball's chance in Hell of keeping up with Al's speed-of-sound licks. When they transition into a section where Barry gets to solo by himself on his Mini-Moog he fares much better. After more muted-string action Al opens up his guitar's tone and dispenses a blistering lead that is awesome. This dude is on fire! A droning, deep note from the synthesizer flows in and serves to gracefully segue from that fury to the exquisite "Short Tales of the Black Forest" where DiMeola on acoustic guitar and Chick Corea on piano perform a scintillating duet. It's an ever-flowing, inspired piece of art that builds and builds to a beautiful crescendo. The only way for me to describe it is to say that it's two exceptional virtuosos speaking the same cosmic language that can only be translated as gorgeous music. Al saved the best for last.

While the album has a few minor lapses along the way, it's important to bear in mind that this was DiMeola's first and it was a learning experience in more ways than one. If you enjoy the guitarisms that he is famous for then you'll find plenty here to gleefully absorb. 3.6 stars.

Chicapah | 4/5 |


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