AL DI MEOLA’S
breathe, and develop. Most people actually
don’t even record with bands anymore—
they just layer tracks one instrument at a
time, and it definitely shows.
Ovation Al Di Meola signature model, 1948
Martin D- 18, Conde Hermanos nylon-string, PRS
Al Di Meola Prism, Gibson Al Di Meola Les Paul,
Gibson Al Di Meola hollowbody
Roland VG-88 Guitar System,
Roland GR- 1 Guitar Synthesizer
1979 50-watt Dumble Overdrive
Special driving a Mesa/Boogie
2x12 cab with Celestion
Vintage 30 speakers
Strings and Picks
D’Addario EXL110 electric
sets, D’Addario EJ16 steel-string
acoustic sets, Savarez
nylon-string acoustic sets, extra-
heavy D’Andrea picks
have independent parts that create a massively syncopated whole.
example, not long ago I visited Morocco with
the group, and you can hear that influence on
the new two-part composition “Mawazine.”
There are lots of international sounds on the
album—and in your music in general. Can
you pinpoint specific influences for that?
I feel so at home in the world of music.
I was born in the United States but don’t
sound at all like an American. My music
is influenced by different Latin styles and
rhythmic derivations. This goes back to
when I was a teenager and would hang
out in Latin clubs in New York City and
soak in all the complex rhythms. About 25
years ago, I totally immersed myself in the
world of tango and in the works of Astor
Piazzolla—which sit really well on the guitar but have been played by very few guitarists. I took the music—which is not just
intellectual and technical but so deep and
heartfelt—and made it my own by adding
extreme syncopation and all kinds of unexpected rhythms. This influence also worked
into my own compositions—not in terms
of any one element, but more the overall
passionate sound of the music.
But I’m into so many other styles—a lot
of classical, Middle Eastern music, and so on.
And I tend to soak in sounds where I travel,
not by reading transcriptions or books about
the music but more in a subliminal way. It
just takes over and ends up in my music. For
Talk a little about recording Pursuit of
Radical Rhapsody, which sounds so naturally flowing. Was it done live?
Before we even went in the studio, the
ensemble spent almost a year rehearsing
the tunes on the road. Everyone developed
a comfort level with the compositions and
began to take more liberties with their
own embellishments, which lent character
to everything, along with a good feel and
groove. In other words, the rehearsals were
kind of part of the writing process. Another
good thing is that rehearsing the songs so
thoroughly for so long afforded me the
chance to take away ideas or add them to
a piece—to remove an unnecessary part
that was weighing things down or to add a
cool chord change. So by the time we got
to the studio, everybody was very comfortable with the material and we were able to
record the album mostly live.
We used overdubbing sparingly for the
occasional extra drum part or guitar solo.
That’s pretty much the opposite of the
way things are normally done these days.
Musicians go into the studio after a quick
rehearsal to record, which means their compositions haven’t gotten the chance to live,
The record is filled with uncommonly
complex chord progressions. Do you
have any pointers for someone who’s just
learning to play over changes?
First, arm yourself with a knowledge of
theory, which will help you identify which
scales apply to a given chord. Then make
sure you’ve got those scales under your
fingers. When you’re faced with a new
progression, a good basic rule to make it
all work is this: Use the appropriate scales
and play things very slowly while you think
about the smoothest way to get from one
chord to the next. For example, one new
track, “Siberiana,” has a bunch of chord
changes. One of the sections starts off on
an F#m chord and then moves to Am. So
if you’re playing a C# over the F#m chord,
you can move down a half-step to C to land
smoothly on the Am and make the change.
You can also look for a common tone—
one note that can be played over different
chords. The note E will work on both an
F#m and Am chords. That way you can
focus on doing a lot of really cool things
with rhythm and syncopation. That’s something that’s never really talked about—the
importance of rhythmic improvisation.
What would you recommend to a player
who’s struggling with rhythm?
You first have to connect physically to whatever it is you’re practicing. If you’re having
problems, it’s best to start with something
simple in 4/4. Before you even play a note or
strum a chord, tap your foot in quarter-notes,
making sure that the foot is very steady.
Then, try adding the guitar playing, making
absolutely sure the foot maintains a consistent beat. If the foot is doing what it should
be, then you’ll be able to add the upper
rhythms—the ones you play against the beat
on the guitar. But if your foot sways even a
hair, it’s all over. At that point, you’re going
to have to take things down to a ridiculously
slow tempo and tap along with a metronome
until your foot gets its act together, because if
it’s not doing what it should then you won’t
be able to hold things together, rhythmically.
In the end, rhythm is the most important
thing—and it all comes from the foot.