Virtually all of guitarist Al DiMeola's recordings since the days of Return to Forever are listenable to a greater or lesser degree, but his last couple have been truly exceptional. A genuine affection for the Beatles permeates All Your Life (In-Akustik, 2013) and the comparably deep, lush textures of the ever-so-appropriately titled Elysium are rooted in a spontaneity that is unusual for a musician so technically adept he sometimes has to fight to play with genuine abandon.
Not here though and DiMeola's joined in the various moments within these fourteen tracks by musicians in the same open frame of mind. There's no other way the piano of Mario Parmisano and the percussion of Rhani Krija would mesh as smoothly as the intensity ebbs and flows on "Adour" and while the multiplicity of acoustic and electric instruments of the bandleader is similar to that of solo albums Casino (Columbia, 1978) nothing sounds forced or contrived.
In fact, that atmosphere sounds and feels wholly natural in large part because of the impeccable sound of Elysium, its mix maximizing the stereo spectrum perhaps most in evidence when acoustic guitars are prominent as they are on "Cascade." But it's also true DiMeola's production skills would be for naught without the abiding empathy between him and the other players, including at various points keyboardists Phillip Saisse and Barry Miles, and while the arrangements (again by DiMeola himself) are dense to be sure, the musicianship breathes as it does during the title-cut .
And as on "Babylon," there's a sense of fluidity and warmth that actually bursts turns fiery when the electric lines connect with each other after interweaving with acoustic instruments. Such vivid colors DiMeola and his accompanists mix on tracks like "Sierra" and "Amanjena" sound as exotic as their names and those of some of their instruments, yet they penetrate deeply and directly, evoking emotional response in proportion no doubt to that of the players. Still, when the volume rises and rhythm gets ratcheted up as on "Tangier," there's no sense of heavy-handed strain for effect, but instead a sense of a band following the music it has set into motion.
The relative brevity of the tracks, ranging from one-minute plus to just shy of seven minutes, only adds to the cumulative effect. The meticulously-detailed credits including make and model of DiMeola's various stringed instruments might indicate an overweening attention to nuance, but as Elysium unfolds into the airy likes of "Purple and Gold," it becomes evident these subtleties arise from this man's passion for the tools of his trade.
Along similar lines, the temptation is great to (over)analyze the imposing technical aspects of Elysium, particularly perhaps for audiophiles and music students, but the fact is the greatest pleasure to derive from hearing this record lies in simply being swept away by the vibrancy of its music, especially as it lulls at the conclusion with the precise picking and glowing marimba on "La Lluvia."
Adour; Cascade; Babylon; Purple and Gold; Esmeralda; Elysium; Amanjena; Sierra; Etcetera in E-major Intro; Etcetera in E-minor; Tangier; Stephanie; Monsters; Lluvia, La.
Al Di Meola: guitar, drums, percussion; Mario Parmisano: keyboards; Philippe Saisse:keyboards;, Barry Miles: keyboards; Péter Kaszás: drums; Rhani Krija: percussion.
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