Jazz fans were treated to quite the evening of music last Saturday when guitar legend Al Di Meola took to the stage at Salle Pierre Mercure for a full evening of music. Being the only act on the bill can be a daunting task for some, but when you have over 40 years of material to choose from the only problem is finding the right mix of tunes to play.
Most of the evening was spent bouncing back and forth between celebrating Al’s classic album Elegant Gypsy which turns 40 this year and playing some of the newer tracks off of his most recent release Elysium. With the exception of the first few songs of the second set, this was a mostly electric guitar night featuring the full band… and what a band it was!
Its core was a powerful rhythm section composed of Luis Alicea on drums, Elias Tona on bass and percussionist Gumbi Ortiz whose high energy and constant movement around the stage brought both his fellow musicians and the crowd to life.
Rouding out the lineup were pianist Philippe Saisse and violinist Evan Garr who stood out as a force to be reckoned with in the future. On many of the songs Garr would share the solo duties and could clearly hold his own as a master of speed and technique.
The story of how Garr came to be up on stage with one of his idols is inspiring and has a Montreal connection. Watch the clip below for the story in Al’s own words and a small example of Garr’s brilliance at playing the violin.
As great as the backing band was, this show was a brilliant example of Di Meola’s mastery of his craft. A performer who has never shyed away from complexity, speed and technical wizardry, this performance pushed the limits of how well someone can play music live.
Although clearly a jazz-latin style performer, it was interesting to see a little bit of rock and roll as a root influence. One such example is Al’s re-imagining of some Beatles tunes, most notably the famous McCartney guitar ballad Blackbird which he played as a solo acoustic number on Saturday. There was also a brief full band version of the Zeppelin classic Black Dog with Garr doing his “Robert Plant impression” by substituting the lead vocal part for violin.
If you missed it don’t fret. Al has a long time love affair with Montreal and is a good friend of the Jazzfest, so there will certainly be more chances to catch him in the future.
* Photos by Stephanie Laughlin