There are three types of Al Di Meola fans: those who favor his electric groups, those who prefer his acoustic guitar stylings and those who can't get enough of both. Two of those factions were rewarded this year when Di Meola released an acoustic recording, "World Sinfonia," his first album of any sort in almost four years.
Fans in the remaining camp shouldn't be downhearted, though. A new electric album from the Al Di Meola Project, entitled "Kiss My Axe," is scheduled for release early in 1992.
"I don't have a problem with going back and forth," Di Meola said this week in a telephone interview from his home near Inglewood, N. J. "I've never been a purist."
Since coming to prominence with keyboardist Chick Corea's electric Return to Forever band and continuing through his own electric bands and acoustic collaborations with John McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia, the guitarist has always been one to muddy the stylistic waters.
His latest direction focuses on the tango. His World Sinfonia quintet, which will play Saturday at the Coach House, also includes Armenian percussionist Arto Tuncboyaci and Cuban percussionist Gumbi Ortiz, Venezuelan guitarist Chris Carrington and Dino Saluzzi from Argentina on bandoneon, the Argentine button accordion.
"It's always been a big interest of mine to play with musicians from different countries," Di Meola said. "But to find musicians who are specialist in improvisation on instruments that are unique is not always easy to do."
But Di Meola said the album is definitely not a pure tango album. "It's not traditional in that the rhythms are different. The kind of percussion I have is never used in tango, so that inclusion along with a little voice as well as the opening up of sections for improvisation has created something new."
Di Meola became interested in the style in the mid-'80s when he toured Japan on a bill with Astor Piazzolla, who's often called the father of modern tango. "I had known Astor for a few years before that," Di Meola explained, "but hadn't heard much of his music. He accomplished all I want to do. His music is very deep and very sensual with jazz rhythms and harmonies. I was really taken by it--the most passionate things I've ever heard. I began to look at him like he was the new Stravinsky."
The two corresponded and made plans to work together. But last year Piazzolla suffered a stroke that left him unable to play. That's when Saluzzi stepped in. "I had met him in Europe three years ago when he opened a concert for the electric group and was completely taken by his show. So after the incident of Astor's stroke it came to me to call Dino to add that element I'd been thinking about for a long time. There are bandoneon players who come from the classical school of tango and who can read the parts. But Dino is someone who can improvise and also lend to the music the folklore aspects of his native country."
The resulting "World Sinfonia" album stands as a tribute to Piazzolla. Di Meola arranged parts of Piazzolla's "Tango Suite" for his quintet, as well as writing a song for his hero, "Last Tango for Astor." He hopes that the disc will help educate American audiences in the musical style.
"Most people, when they think of tango, can only think of that corny Hollywood thing. They also don't know anything about the bandoneon and haven't heard of Piazzolla. It's like being interested in Brazilian music and not having heard of Milton Nascimento. Where have they been?"
Also heard on "World Sinfonia" is the guitarist's arrangement of Chick Corea's "No Mystery," the title tune from one of Return to Forever's electric albums from the '70s. "It's a piece that I find is very contemporary," Di Meola explained.
"It has nice ensemble parts in the classical form, nice harmonies for improvisation. It goes through a set of moods that works well not only on guitar but for the entire band as well. It's hard to write and find pieces for this instrumentation. 'No Mystery' is upbeat but also has very melancholy sections, and the bandoneon works well conveying that mood."
The electric album, scheduled for release in January, features heavyweights Omar Hakim on drums and Anthony Jackson on bass. Di Meola, who has written 11 new songs for the project, said it has not always easy going between formats.
"The details of going from one to another are hard to work out. I'd like to keep both groups together, but scheduling becomes difficult. It's also difficult playing acoustic, then switching over to electric. Electric feels so foreign after playing acoustic, and it's very hard to switch from electric to acoustic because acoustic is so much more technically difficult."
The electric album's irreverent title reflects the guitarist's feelings on the state of today's music business. "This industry should get its face slapped for the garbage they feed people, all that rap and metal stuff that they force down people's throats.
"People are brainwashed to like so much of this music. There's no outlet for kids to be influenced by virtuosity. MTV doesn't give you that side of music; VH-1 doesn't give that side. In my opinion there's a lot of exciting music out there that should be played, but radio and TV say they aren't in the business to educate. Still, they've got to be embarrassed by all the money they put into such crap."
Al Di Meola and World Sinfonia appear at 8 and 10:30 p.m. Saturday at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano. Tickets: $19.50. Information: (714) 496-8930.