From the heartland: Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny.
By Greg Cahill
TAKE A PEEK at Grammy-winning guitarist Pat Metheny's record label bio and sooner or later you'll catch the phrase "recorded while on vacation." It seems that the prolific jazz player just can't sit still. "I'm very active musically, there's no doubt about it," he confesses, during a phone interview from New York, when asked if he ever takes a day off to go fishing. "But I really enjoy all kinds of things other than music. I have no problem at all not even touching a guitar for a week or two at a time. Honest."
"That's something I can easily do."
Over the years, and between recordings with the Pat Metheny Group--which are often a two- to three-year process, from conception to final recording--Metheny has managed to complete a variety of side projects, including his recent film score for A Map of the World and Trio 99→00, both on the Warner Bros. label.
"During those periods, I've recorded several solo things or frequently sat in as a sideman," he explains. "I really love the variety I'm able to enjoy in my life as a musician. It's so cool. And, in a way, that is the way I spend my vacations."
"For me, playing is fun. It's never anything but a good thing."
Those two most recent projects, released just weeks apart, presented quite different challenges. A Map of the World is Metheny's 10th film score, although only the fourth released on CD. "Writing for film is a very particular kind of discipline," he says. "In many ways, it's the antithesis of being an improviser. Yet, at the same time, the two styles kind of inform each other. And each score is wildly different: a different director, a different cast of characters, a different story."
"This particular one was the most satisfying. For one thing, it was a great novel [by Jane Hamilton], and the tone of the musical score really was finished by the time I finished reading it. Most people don't realize it, but the nuts and bolts of writing music for a film happen very quickly. I had 13 days, from the time the director had a final edit until we were in the studio to record the score. That's a lot of music to come up with in a short time."
"But this project absolutely was worth every bit I could throw at it. It was a very stimulating project."
ONE FAMILIAR quality that permeates the richly textured score--sometimes solo acoustic guitar, sometimes augmented by a chamber orchestra--is the Midwestern expansiveness that marks so much of Metheny's recorded work. That's a quality that some critics love to hate. Opined Downbeat critic John Ephland in his recent three-and-a-half-star review: "Like so much else Pat Metheny's created over the years, this is dream music, plain and simple. Gorgeous stuff, but dream music just the same."
But Metheny is unapologetic about the dreaminess that colors his emotional landscapes. He attributes his distinctive style to his Missouri roots and the vastness of the region's infamous big-sky country.
"That's something that's been with me all the time, right from the beginning," he explains. "Even the geography out there always inspired me--the openness of it--and even the distance between events is bigger. It's a place I go back to a lot while I'm playing."
"I often think about that aesthetic and leaving room for things to happen."
THEN THERE'S the other side of Metheny--the energetic and engaged guitarist who has now recorded four of the most revered, studied, and influential guitar trio albums of our time. As with a previous Metheny trio, which recorded the acclaimed Question and Answer, this trio came together as the guitarist finished a two-year stretch of recording around the world with his regular group. For his "vacation" period, Metheny decided to find a couple of like-minded players and continue once again to expand on his unique vision of what a guitar-led, improvisationally driven three-piece ensemble can suggest within this modern culture of music.
Metheny describes his latest trio CD--recorded with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Billy Stewart--as "a snapshot of three guys playing, a moment in their musical lives together."
The impressive project was recorded in just two days, following a brief summer tour together. "As the tour progressed, I realized there was something emerging between the three of us, and it would have been a mistake not to document it," Metheny says. "There was a chemistry there that was very cool."
"The trio is a very particular kind of animal," he continues. "It's a very stimulating environment to play in. It's such a balanced musical environment. Three people in any kind of music--whether it's classical, jazz, rock, or whatever--[can play] the right amount of lines that people can keep track of. It's sort of transparent for the listener, in a very good way. And, for the player, each guy has to hold up his end of the triangle to keep it afloat."
"It's just fantastic because those guys are just like me in that they don't have an idiomatic alignment--they're ready to play just about anything."
The Pat Metheny Trio performs Thursday, March 30, at 8 p.m. at the Luther Burbank Center, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. Tickets are $32.50. 546-3600.
From the March 16-22, 2000, 1999 issue of the Sonoma County Independent. Copyright © Metro Publishing Inc. Maintained by Boulevards New Media.
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