Di Meola (center) and World
Sinfonia—(left to right) Faust
Beccalossi, Peter Kaszas,
Alfonso, Gumbi Ortiz, and Victor
Miranda. Photo courtesy of
Shore Fire Media
Is there any Roland VG-88 on the record?
Yes. I used a little bit of that on acoustic
parts here and there, as well as a GR-1 guitar
synthesizer, which has been discontinued
but is, in my opinion, the best one Roland
has made. On “Destination Gonzalo,”
for instance, I played my signature model
Ovation and combined the basic acoustic-electric
sound with a fretless bass setting on
the GR-1 to get this really awesome effect.
Although the guitar really does shine,
the album seems to be more about the
ensemble than your own playing.
I paid extremely close attention to how all
the instruments blended together. In the
past, I’ve used the combination of acoustic
guitar and piano or synth, but I’ve come
to find that keyboards can be a little overbearing
when played with a nylon-string.
The instruments’ timbres can be too close
together, because both have strings. There’s
a lot of accordion on the record, courtesy
of the great Fausto Beccalossi, and that
instrument works really well with the guitar—
especially when adding counterpoint.
With their completely different sounds,
accordion and guitar are so beautiful
together, very European and romantic. And
the accordion adds a depth and meaning to
the sound that you just can’t get from an
In addition to your usual World Sinfonia
co-conspirators, you had some pretty
distinguished guests on the record—jazz
bass legend Charlie Haden, Cuban pianist
Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and others.
Right—it was great! Charlie’s a super-legendary
and super-friendly guy. He
was amazingly easy to work with, and he
brought an unusual gut-string upright
bass for the session, which had a really
beautiful sound—especially for ballads. It
worked really well on “Over the Rainbow,”
which has this nostalgic feel. Working
with Gonzalo was also great. What can
I say—he’s a super god on the piano! It
was such an honor to have him, Charlie,
and also [jazz drummer] Peter Erskine on
the record. They were all so supportive
and happy to be part of the session. Their
enthusiasm was infectious and brought out
the best in all of us.
You also worked with a second guitarist,
Kevin Seddiki. Did you find this freeing?
Yes, it allowed me to take on both soloing
and accompaniment roles, both on the
album and in concert. But more important,
I really like the sound of two guitars
at once—it’s sort of the nucleus of many
of my pieces, and it’s what I first hear in
my head when I’m composing. Working
with two guitars can be a little tricky,
though, because to the listener they can
be indistinguishable from one another.
This is easy enough to address in the studio,
just by panning one instrument right
and the other left, but I’ve also found that
it helps keep the sounds separate to use a
nylon-string and a steel-string, which have
such nicely contrasting sounds.
Speaking of composing, what was your
writing process like for this album?
It wasn’t so unusual. I sat down in my
home on the beach in Miami and wrote
all the parts. I’d normally start with the
arpeggios that form the structure of a piece,
followed by the melody and a bass line, all
with lots of counterpoint. That’s the beginning
skeleton of any written piece of mine.
From there, you can do anything.
Did you actually write out the parts, or
did you record them and play them for
the other musicians to learn by ear?
I did things the old-fashioned way: I wrote
out all of the individual melodic and harmonic
parts—everything but the percussion—
painstakingly by hand. Then I took
the charts to rehearsal and had my drummer,
Peter Kaszas, and percussionist, Gumbi
Ortiz, work everything out. My only compositional
input and my general rule of
thumb is that a percussionist and drummer
shouldn’t play the same things. Each should
have independent parts that create a massively
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
example, not long ago I visited Morocco with
the group, and you can hear that influence on
the new two-part composition “Mawazine.”