copyright © 2003 C. Andrew Hovan
For most of us there seems to be a defining moment in our lives that serves to provide further definition to who we are both personally and professionally. For guitarist Pat Metheny, that moment came while he was still in his early teens.
As a youngster growing up in the rural setting of Lee's Summit, Missouri, he found there was little available in the way of musical diversity beyond the ethnic and folk music styles of the area. Metheny's trip to the local department store one day however would change the course of his musical growth when he came across a copy of Ornette Coleman's Blue Note album New York Is Now! in the cut-out bin. At around the same time Metheny had switched from trumpet to guitar and found the jazz sensibilities of Coleman's music so much to his liking that he would later refer to himself as "basically an Ornette-styled player." "When I said that, it was 1974!" explains the guitarist in a recent e-mail correspondence. "I think what I was thinking of was the emphasis on melody - Ornette's thing is so much about melody, but since that time there has been quite a bit of evolution and research. I think I wouldn't put it in quite such simple terms nowadays."
While Metheny's musical personality certainly has evolved over the years, there's no denying the fact that his uncommon sophistication with melodic development has brought him a popular commercial appeal that few jazz based musicians ever even hope to achieve. And over the years its been the work he's done with the Pat Metheny Group, first formed in 1978 with alter ego Lyle Mays, that has brought him the most fame, even despite critics who have claimed that such popularity is proof that the music is of relative unimportance from a jazz standpoint. But as writer Richard C. Wells once said about the yin and the yang of the guitarist's appeal, "Metheny's most commercial music has always displayed intelligence and originality and by remaining committed to more 'difficult' forms he's increased the audience for the genre in general."
Some of the more 'difficult' forms that Wells alludes to include many of the projects that the guitarist chooses to undertake when not recording or touring with the Metheny Group. Over the years these have included the duo project with Lyle Mays As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, the 1985 meeting with Ornette Coleman documented on Song X, and the extreme avant garde manifesto Zero Tolerance For Silence. As for his diversification from one project to the next, Metheny claims it's no so much a conscious effort as way of finding what works for a particular musical idea. "I like both variety and familiarity," he says, "But always try to let the music decide the best setting for how it wants to get played."
Last year after finishing a second tour to promote the most recent Group album, Speaking Of Now, Metheny decided to toy with the idea of putting together his first album of solo guitar that would consist of some home recordings he started to make back in November of 2001. "It wasn't something I had planned on," Metheny explains. "Basically I was sitting around at home one night after spending many months writing and working on the last Group record. I had just bought a new CD burner, had three blank CD's and decided to fill them all up that night with music."
Although Metheny enthusiasts will be full aware of his other solo endeavor, New Chautauqua, that album was produced by Pat laying down various guitar and bass tracks on a multi-channel machine. One Quiet Night is something different all together. "There is something strange about the fact that after making records for all these years, I had never made a record where I just sit there and play the guitar," says Metheny. "I had this baritone guitar laying around that I had not really figured out what to do with and I just kind of started playing in a way that I would characterize as being largely in an adagio style, taking advantage of the tonal qualities that that particular guitar seemed to surprisingly be dishing out." Among some new material, this intimate recital includes the pop ditty "Ferry Cross the Mersey," Keith Jarrett's "My Song," and Pat's own iconic "Last Train Home."
In the lineage of his work with Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette and Trio 99-00> that featured Larry Grenadier and Bill Stewart, Metheny is currently on tour with a new threesome that includes present Group drummer Antonio Sanchez and master jazz bassist Christian McBride. Commenting on his band mates, he says "I have been friends with Christian for many years and we have played together here and there lots of times and Antonio has been in my regular group for the past two years. I felt they would be a perfect match for each other and it has turned out that I was right."
Mixing up the old and the new in terms of repertoire, Metheny revels in the opportunity once again to work in a format that has always been near and dear to his heart. "Playing trio is something that I have done a lot of from the very beginning. I think it is just an incredibly challenging and stimulating playing environment and I think that is what keeps me coming back for more year after year. This particular combination is exciting for the amazing virtuosity that both Antonio and Christian share as well as the widest possible stylistic reach I could ever imagine."
Not one to rest on any laurels and eager to keep the next project within easy grasp, Metheny fans will be glad to know that a new Group album is also in the works at this time. Of the album, the guitarist says, "We are a little more than halfway done and it is really going to be a special one - one of the most interesting and exciting records we have ever done."First published in the Cleveland Free Times
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