Interview: Al Di Meola

Frank Kuznik quizzes the American guitarist ahead of his May 11 Prague concert

Al Di Meola is a rarity among rock and jazz guitarists, a virtuoso player who is also a prolific composer and bandleader constantly venturing into new musical territory. After breaking out with the seminal jazz fusion group Return to Forever in the 1970s, he established himself as a formidable solo artist with a string of Latin-flavored albums. Subsequent collaborations with fellow guitar heroes Paco de Lucia and John McLaughlin (on Friday Night in San Francisco) and bassist Stanley Clarke and violinist Jean-Luc Ponty (in the Rite of Strings trio) cemented his status as a superstar. Never content to linger in one genre, Di Meola became a devotee and close friend of Argentinian tango composer Astor Piazzolla, and has been pioneering new directions in world music with his New World Sinfonia ensemble. Currently on tour in Europe and the Mideast, Di Meola answered questions about his upcoming Prague performance via email.

Your music has universal appeal -- this month alone, you're also playing in Spain, Norway, Germany, Israel, the UK and Korea. What do you think accounts for your worldwide popularity?

I made a name for myself as part of some great projects in the 1970s and '80s. So when I started doing my own recordings, they were loved worldwide. But this was at a time when records were far more important than they are now. The industry has changed so much that making it as a new artist today is virtually impossible.

You've been exploring a lot of different musical genres and composers. Is there a conscious agenda or direction that you're moving in, or do you just follow whatever interests develop naturally?

I think I'm strangely unique in that I follow nothing in any way that would be considered common sense. However, the end result of all these elements work, as they are instinctively my feelings, culminating with careful pacing throughout all the compositions.

How did your musical partnership with Gonzalo Rubalcaba develop?

I first heard Gonzalo's recordings 20 years ago in the States, when he had a fusion group in Cuba called Projecto. Then in the mid-'90s, we shared a bill together in Germany where we had the opportunity to jam at the end of my show. I invited him to participate on a couple of my recordings, which then led to our idea to do some duet shows together, and him being a special guest in my group New World Sinfonia.

What's it been like touring with him and playing as a duo?

It's been the most fun! No ego trip, like some other artists might have. Also, the dialogue we have is some of the best I've had as an artist in my life.

Do you and Gonzalo work from a set list, or do you lean more toward improv in concert?

We do it all, compositions mixed with way-out improvisation.

What can we expect to hear in Prague?

A lot of my compositions, and a Piazzolla piece or two as well.

What do you hope people will get from the concert?

Hopefully, a magical musical dialogue.

• Al Di Meola & Gonzalo Rubalcaba will be performing at the Rudolfinum's Dvořák hall (Dvořákova síň) on Friday, May 11, 2012 from 8pm. Tickets will be available from the Rudolfinum box office from 7pm

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