At 33, guitarist Al DiMeola, the man who built his reputation with one finger-flying solo after another in Return to Forever and his own band, is slowing down.
"Endless blistering fast lines do not impress me anymore," DiMeola said recently. His three Manhattan Records LPs--"Cielo e Terra," "Soaring Through a Dream" and the just-released "Tirami Su"--back up his statement: each has a degree of quietude and lyricism not previously found in DiMeola's live or recorded performances.
Now that the rapid-fire lines are no longer de rigueur , the same goes for volume, said DiMeola, who leads his sextet--featuring keyboardist Kei Akagi, drummer Tommy Brechtlein and percussionist Luis Conte--Sunday at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano and Tuesday at the Palace.
"I hate it when the show is real loud," he said. "That's another of the reasons I changed musical direction. I can't take volume any more. Playing with RTF didn't help. Chick (Corea) used to have the speaker for his Rhodes (electric piano), which kills you in the upper register, about two feet from his head, and because it was angled, the sound hit me. My ears used to ring like crazy from that."
The 33-year-old New Jersey native said he is now "knocked out by dynamite compositions," such as those by Brazilian musicians like Antonio Carlos Jobim, Milton Nasciemento and Egberto Gismonti. "I have been influenced by that style since I was in my teens. I had a great teacher named Bob Aslanian, and he had me playing that way. Before I met Chick, this was the kind of music I was into. So for my new direction, I took elements (from Brazilian music) and also what I liked about (my) older music and I fused it."
"I think the new tunes are harmonically and melodically memorable without being pop-ish or sterile," DiMeola added.
On "Tirami Su," DiMeola also uses a singer, Jose Renato, but he doesn't sing lyrics. "Jose's voice is used as a new, horn-kind-of instrument," he said. "It's soothing, to say the least." Renato was a last minute substitute for Airto Moreira, who sang on "Soaring" and was supposed to do the new LP, "only he got a better deal," DiMeola said with an ironic chuckle. "So I heard about Jose from (Brazilian guitarist) Ricardo Silveira, both of whom happened to be in New York. Jose came over to my house, it was late, about 2 a.m., and even though he speaks very little English, in an hour he had learned the music."
Though DiMeola's current approach is made up of "fused elements," he doesn't think of what he plays as jazz/fusion, which he sees as the style played by RTF, the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report. "What I'm playing is not what I was doing 10 years ago. It's a lighter sound," he said.
DiMeola was first heard in 1974 as a member of RTF and by the early '80s, he was sitting on top of the contemporary jazz world. His CBS LPs, like "Elegant Gypsy," "Casino" and "Splendido Hotel," were selling between 300,000 and 700,000 copies, he was touring both with his band and with John MacLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, a group whose "Passion, Fire and Grace" CBS LP sold 750,000.
Everything changed for DiMeola when CBS released his "Scenario LP in 1983. The album contained a cut by pianist Jan Hammer called "Sequencer." "(CBS) picked this cut, and had it mixed it as disco single and it became a hit in all the New York dance clubs," the guitarist said. "They made me go to all the discos to do promotion. I felt so uncomfortable.
"I was a disco star. I said to myself 'This is not what I wanted (out of music).' So I took all of 1984 off. I didn't record (CBS dropped him during this time), I didn't play one concert. I wrote the music for "Cielo e Terra" and "Soaring Through a Dream" and that began this whole new direction."
DiMeola said his new slant "has been very personally rewarding. It may throw some of the older fans, who expect me to be burning on every tune. But I really do have this desire to put the accent on composition. And besides, the intensity, though it may be underlying, instead of obvious, is still there."