Al Di Meola - Elegant Gypsy. 1977 USA

In my junior year of high school, way back in 1981, there was a new kid in school and we became instant friends.  But he was different than all of us. He was rich. Very rich in fact. I never even knew anyone that was wealthy, much less had a friend like that. While I certainly never missed a meal growing up, we definitely didn't have much disposable income - and lived quite modestly. The fact is, rich kids didn't go to schools where I lived. The reasons are multiple, but that's for another time (and drinks presumably).

I bring all of this up here in an Al Di Meola review, because this new chum also brought an entirely new music perspective with him. Unlike myself and my running set, he had no use for FM radio (i.e. AOR/MTV/Corp Rock), hard rock, or heavy metal - the latter being my first foray into collecting underground music. Oh no - this guy was already a well schooled audiophile, who had thousands of dollars of stereo equipment throughout the 15,000 sq ft mansion he lived in. He read all the magazines, and absorbed the music culture that went with it. And jazz fusion was the music of choice. I wouldn't have known what fusion was had it hit me in the nose back then. And his favorite guitarist was, ta-dah - Al Di Meola. And Elegant Gypsy, along with Casino, were LPs he played constantly while at his house shooting pool or playing ping pong. Eventually I bought up the Di Meola line through Electric Rendezvous, and then I exited for college.

There in college, of course, I met more people who were quite informed about music. It was also about the time that a one Yngwie Malmsteen entered stage right (who friend above and I discovered via the somewhat disappointing Steeler album). Then came all those tiresome debates, ones it seems I engaged in for far too long in life. Like "who's the fastest guitarist". And off went the arguments "Malmsteen only plays chromatic scales.." "Di Meola is a one trick pony". "Oh yea, well John McLaughlin blows them all away!"... Who's that I ask? And then I found myself loading up on Mahavishnu Orchestra albums. Ah you kids and the internet. In those days it was talk (none of this was on the radio) and used record stores if you wanted to learn about something.

Eventually I got worn out by all of that, and held Al Di Meola responsible for me not liking music that seemingly was all about technique. And it was in college that I was first discovering Krautrock and European underground prog rock - pretty much the polar opposite of the slick, audiophile friendly jazz fusion.

None of which was fair to our subject matter at hand. Eventually I went back to Elegant Gypsy and revisited it on its own terms - sold off the dogeared LP and purchased the CD - and heard it with a fresh pair of ears. Honestly the chops are only a part of Al Di Meola's repertoire, but I do think he's quite unheralded when it comes to songwriting. He's quite adept at that too, and every song here is enjoyable (with like-minded cohort Mingo Lewis penning the opener 'Flight Over Rio'). And 'Race with Devil on Spanish Highway' is what everyone else says - a brilliant track, the perfect combination of jazz fusion and prog rock. I don't agree with those who state Di Meola was retreading ground that Santana laid out. To me, we're talking two entirely different branches of Latin influenced music.

Nowadays, I may hear the album every few years, and this listen just confirmed again how enjoyable Elegant Gypsy really is. After knowing the album very well for 37 years, I can say that with conviction.

Personal collection
CD: 198? Columbia

One of those old school-no info CD's that proudly state "Now Made in the USA!". If you recall, CDs were originally made in Japan (and expensive at that), so it was something of a big deal when they became a domestic product. It's really too bad folks have moved away from CDs. I would expect a renaissance at some point.

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