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Of all the guitarists influenced by The Beatles, Al Di Meola’s name doesn’t exactly leap to the forefront. Yet the fusion star, best known for his mid-’70s work with Return to Forever and a solo career that began in 1976, released a solid Fab Four tribute in 2013. All Your Life’s follow-up, Across the Universe, blends melodic pop sensibilities, Di Meola’s penchant for world music and, of course, the expected searing fretwork on electric and acoustic guitars.
Interpreting “Strawberry Fields Forever,” the guitarist blends nylon-stringed and plugged-in axes. Di Meola’s unplugged instrument states the John Lennon-Paul McCartney composition’s melody reverently before his electric guitar and a double-time rhythmic cadence intervene. The opening track, George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” offers a series of contrasts through a nearly unrecognizable intro, then a brisk 6/8-timed rhythm during the familiar melody. It’s also a welcome addition of a Harrison composition — not one of which was featured on All Your Life — as his songwriting frequently took a back seat to the Lennon-McCartney team’s.
Other highlights include “Norwegian Wood,” on which Amit Mavithar’s tabla drums form an undercurrent for Di Meola’s web of acoustic guitars; the flamenco-tinged “I’ll Follow the Sun,” with a cameo by trumpeter Randy Brecker; and a gorgeous solo-acoustic guitar rendition of the ballad “Here, There and Everywhere.” Di Meola provides his own anchoring bass, drums and percussion parts throughout, the results of which are more world music than fusion, while the New Jersey Philharmonic’s brass and Budapest String Section add intermittent, George Martin-esque orchestration. — Bill Meredith