Mixtape Forensics — April 2024, Part 5: Al Di Meola, “Sequencer”

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Memory's funny. I have forgotten key facts about the people I love and cherish the most, but somehow, I still remember the eight seconds of Canadian basic cable where the Beastie Boys dissed Al Di Meola. If memory serves, and it may well not, it was on MuchMusic (i.e. Canadian MTV). The context for this cross-genre drive-by has been lost to time, but I distinctly remember there being a cutaway from the Beasties to a dude who looked like a bad guy from RoboCop twiddling knobs while strip-mall martial artists and tech demo assets dance around him. It's a baffling cultural artifact from an era thick with them.

The video for “Sequencer,” and its parent album Scenario, were unleashed onto an unsuspecting public in 1983, the year jazz fusion broke on MTV. This wasn't because of Di Meola: the video for “Sequencer” is, charitably, the dorkiest thing I've ever seen. Di Meola is doing is best Rick Wakeman impression throughout, what with the capes and synthesizers and all. It is the visual equivalent of a katana hanging on an otherwise bare apartment wall (and not only because there are literal katanas in this video). No, jazz fusion broke on MTV because that same year, Herbie Hancock took over MTV with the funky avant-garde nightmare fuel of “Rockit.” This was not a fair fight. Hancock was filtering his sound through the nascent idiom of hip-hop; Di Meola filtered his through Miami Vice, which makes sense, since the credited songwriter is the smuggler himself, Jan Hammer. So while “Sequencer” isn't great jazz fusion, it is superlative arena-rock cheese.

I still don't know a ton about Di Meola or his work. I'm familiar with Friday Night in San Francisco, his landmark live album with fellow guitar wizards John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucía, because every used record store on Earth is legally required to have one copy of it in stock at all times (see also: August and Everything After, Pocket Full of Kryptonite, and that one ELO compilation, you know the one). I'm not a big Chick Corea/Return to Forever guy; my taste in jazz fusion runs funkier, towards Casiopea or, say, Herbie Hancock. But the main lick of “Sequencer” is catchy, the synthesized percussion in the middle reminds me of Hiroshi Sato's work (consider this my plus for his wonderful 1982 album Awakening, and the music video is an all-time piece of kitsch, memorable enough to appear on my brain's front door last month after literal decades of not thinking about it.