“If good music reduces you to tears, Pat Metheny is your man.”
“Without a single lyric, Pat Metheny has painted a comprehensive picture of the full range of life’s emotions. While admittedly not as complex as Mahler or the other Romantics, his music is every bit as emotional. Not bad for a jazz guitarist!”
“Some of Metheny’s music has mistakenly been labeled ‘New Age’. It’s not. It is jazz at the highest level, jazz chords, jazz rhythms, the works, though often with a heavy sprinkling of international and electronic influences.”
Let’s get right to the best stuff. For a good understanding of Pat Metheny’s musical genius on the guitar and his compositions, go out and buy the following four albums and study them (he has made over thirty-five albums as a leader, and many as a contributor, and is the winner of at least fifteen Grammy awards).
1. PAT METHENY GROUP (1978). Every tune is an example of the rhythms and chords he uses throughout his career. The two tunes co-written with Lyle Mays are must-listen tracks: San Lorenzo and Phase Dance. Also, not to be missed is Lone Jack is a straight-ahead jazz tune by the quartet (guitar, piano, Mark Egan on bass, Dan Gottlieb on drums) with a high-energy up-tempo Latin feel, crisp melodic line and solos by Pat and Lyle that demonstrate to anyone that these are world class jazz players.
2. AS FALLS WICHITA, SO FALLS WICHITA FALLS (1981) is a joint project with Lyle Mays and guest Nana Vasconcelos on percussion and vocals. The title tune, all twenty minutes of it, is a hauntingly beautiful journey in several movements that ends with a rising organ/synthesizer section played over a soundtrack of children’s voices. Powerful. Two other must-listen tracks are September Fifteenth, a tribute to Bill Evans (see Bill Evans posting March 2011), and It’s For You, an excellent example of future directions with his group.
3. STILL LIFE (TALKING) (1984), one of Metheny’s many Grammy Award winners, is possibly the best album by Pat Metheny, fully realizing his composing and arranging talents. The full group is Pat on guitars, Lyle on keyboards and synthesizers, Steve Rodby on acoustic and electric bass, Paul Wertico on drums, Armando Marcal on percussion and voice, David Blamires and Mark Ledford on voice. The Latin influence and power of the voices showcases Metheny at the top of his game. The entire album is superb, but must-listen tracks include these four: Minuano (Six Eight), a fabulous tune with starts with easy-going vocal melody which gradually builds into complex rolling Latin rhythm, guitar work and an outgoing cadence of four soaring chords. Last Train Home is possibly Metheny’s most famous tune, worthy of its fame. It’s Just Talk starts with a way hip pair of chords, vocal melody and Latin rhythm to start, moves into a wonderful behind-the-beat piano solo by Lyle and an out-vamp with a hard-to-beat groove with tasteful drumming by Paul Wertico. In Third Wind, the highest energy tune on the album, Pat’s lead-in to his solo takes your breath away. But then, Pat’s synth-guitar over vocals during the out-vamp takes it higher still.
4. SECRET STORY (1992) is, in the words of an itunes reviewer, “one of the most emotionally expressive recordings in his career” I urge you to go to the online itunes store and read the entire review of this magnificent album which is a journey of intellect, joy and (true to Metheny’s character), loss. You should study the entire album. Every track is superb. My favorite: The Truth Will Always Be: with only a few chords, Metheny creates an impressive anthem to love and life. It gradually builds energy until the synth-guitar kicks in with some of the most powerful and lyrical guitar playing imaginable. It needs to be played loudly.
Okay, now let’s go back and catch up from the beginning.
Pat Metheny hit the road running. His first album BRIGHT SIZE LIFE (1976), while a good example of where he would be going, and has Jaco on bass, is not fully matured. Maturity peeks out from the second album WATERCOLORS (1977). The title tune Watercolors displays his early compositional skills with an easy going tune of superb guitar, with bass by Eberhard Weber. Ice fire shows off his unbelievable harmonics/polytonal chops.
In 1979, he came out with his first solo album, NEW CHAUTAUQUA. The must-listen track is Sueño con Mexico with its minimalistic ostinato (repetitive theme) in the mid range of the guitar over which he pours his heart out with lyrical single note melody and harmonics. If you can, listen also to Daybreak, an uplifting piece with an undercurrent of the sorrow of something lost.
1982: Grammy award winning OFFRAMP. Pat has discovered his own sound on the synth-guitar, an instrument he will use throughout his career. He gets a piercing brassy sound that delivers huge amounts of power and emotion from the upper range of the guitar. The absolute must-listen track is Are You Going With Me? with its quintessential Metheny rolling feel, synthesized harmonica melody from Lyle, and an amazing synth-guitar solo toward the end. (also available on the live TRAVELS album but not quite as good)
1984: Grammy award winner FIRST CIRCLE. The title track First Circle is one of Metheny’s best from the standpoints of rhythm (clapping in 22/8 to start), energy building, and accessibility. It is also some of the earliest use of melodic voice-sans-lyrics. If I Could is a poignant ballad with guitar melody that very few in the world can create; with rich Oberheim overlays by Lyle Mays.
1989: Grammy Award winner LETTER FROM HOME, in the words of the itunes store review, “picks up where STILL LIFE (TALKING) left off”, with Pedro Aznar replacing David Blamires and Mark Ledford on voice and other instruments. Another masterpiece of composition, production, and playing, but sometimes accused of being light jazz, itunes continues…“Metheny has always known the difference between light and lightweight…” The most upbeat tune is Beat 70, with steel drum, synth-harmonica, fantastic percussion, voice and driving rhythm. It is one of the most uplifting in Metheny’s catalogue. Other best tracks include Have You Heard; 5-5-7; Dream Of The Return, but every track is worth listening to.
1995: WE LIVE HERE. The group drops anchor in the river of progress for a while to slow down a bit, but continues to grow nevertheless. Must-listen tracks are the twelve minute To The End Of The World which has a beginning, middle, and end, with some great synth-guitar played to perfection; and We Live Here, a hipified Bolero-like drum beat with intense synth-guitar long tones- it is a major force.
1997: IMAGINARY DAY (two Grammy awards). This is a definite divergence into new territory of complex international instrumentation, chords and rhythm. For the student of Pat Metheny, must-listen tracks are The Heat Of The Day, with its mesmerizing Mid-Eastern rhythm and some new and exciting work on synth-guitar; and Roots Of Coincidence, sometimes called ‘industrial rock’ and that gets into a kickass galloping rhythm with a Goldfinger feel to the melody that evolves into a very electric guitar solo and an orchestrated ending. Beautiful. These guys are not fading.
2002: SPEAKING OF NOW. More or less a continuation of IMAGINARY DAY, but always with new material that advances the form, no matter what genre you wish to label it. Must listen tracks are Proof with its catchy melody played with chords, not single notes, a beautiful trumpet solo by Cuong Vu, a great piano solo, all in a complex composition; and The Gathering Sky, a straight jazz playing within an intricate composition.
OTHER NOTEWORTHY TRACKS:
Here is a must-listen BALLAD PLAYLIST. Pat Metheny expresses emotion in his ballads in a way very few musicians can. All tunes are available individually from itunes.
· September Fifteenth (in memory of Bill Evans)
· In Her Family
· If I Could
· Farmer’s Trust
· The Road To You
· Letter From Home
· Always And Forever
· Tell Her You Saw Me
· Too Soon Tomorrow
· Another Life
· Seven Days
THE ROAD TO YOU (1993): This live recording improves upon Metheny’s first live album TRAVELS: It brings to the stage the tunes from STILL LIFE (TALKING) and LETTER FROM HOME. The entire album is superb. Must-listen tracks to compare with the studio versions are Have You Heard; The title tune, The Road To You, a beautiful ballad, is new material.
ONE QUIET NIGHT (2003): Solo baritone guitar, a beautiful collection. Must-listen tracks are Song For The Boys, and the covers of Kieth Jarrett’s My Song, and the pop tune Ferry Cross The Mersey.
METHENY MEHLDAU (2006): Pat Metheny’s profound effect on Brad Mehldau’s early musical development, plus Metheny’s discovery of Mehldau’s brilliant piano playing once he started recording has produced this serious collaboration. The must-listen track is Metheny’s straight jazz tune Ring Of Life, a high energy quartet piece with Larry Grenadier on bass and the driving drum work of Jeff Ballard, intense piano and synth guitar solos.
Song For Bilbao. The version to listen to is off Michael Brecker’s TALES FROM THE HUDSON album. Pat’s synth guitar solo is not to be missed.