By JOE KLOPUS - The Kansas City Star - Date: 10/07/00 22:15
Pat Metheny's upcoming Kansas City performance with his hard-charging trio echoes his beginnings on the local scene, where he was once the young jazz-guitar whiz. But it also marks the happy end of a chapter for the Lee's Summit native who's played his way to fame around the world.
"It's the last date of this trio, probably," the 46-year-old Metheny said in a recent phone interview. "Kind of cool how that's worked out. It'll be a great spot to go out together."
He's best known for leading the multiple-Grammy-winning Pat Metheny Group, where his solos speak through a bank of synthesizers and a thicket of exotic percussion. But his full-tilt improvising trio with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart satisfies a musical urge that "goes back to the early days," he said.
"My first record was a trio, `Bright Size Life,' with Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses," Metheny says. "Even before that, I was in trios around Kansas City with Tommy Ruskin and different bass players."
"The thing of guitar, bass, drums was always important and always exciting to me. When I was about 13 or 14, there was a thing in The Star about my first trio, the New Sounds Trio. This was about '68 or '69. It was a big deal for me at the time, to have my picture in the paper." (A quick check of The Star's archives doesn't turn up the clipping, alas.)
The current trio project was born when the Pat Metheny Group took a break. "By the time we write music and make a record and do a tour, from beginning to end, it's about a three-year stretch. We got into the habit of leaving some time between projects to do whatever we want to do. It's worthwhile; it keeps the band going, healthy and intact."
The Metheny Group's 20-plus-year run suggests he's right.
"I had the itch to do a trio," he said.MDNM "I had done a couple of things with Larry Grenadier, and I knew I wanted to build it around him."
The successful one-time gig grew into a small tour. "I asked the booking guy to get us four or five weeks of gigs. We got Bill Stewart. And every night kept getting better and better."
At the mini-tour's end, in August 1999, the trio headed for the recording studio. The results can be heard on the album "Trio 99-00." The album, Metheny said, provided a context for more touring with the trio, the cycle that ends with the Kansas City show.
"So we started with a little five-week bunch of gigs, and it turned out to be a fairly substantial little period for me." In 18 months the trio has given close to 200 concerts, he said.
Metheny is full of praise for his trio mates.
"Bill and Larry are of the generation younger than me that tends to get labeled as neoconservative." The generation has "lots of guys who are really good players, who spent years addressing bebop." But Grenadier and Stewart are distinctive, he said, because "though they have a depth of insight into the more traditional world, their expansive, exploratory sense even took me by surprise."
As they performed, they grew into something "far removed from what the trio record would suggest."
The tour has been documented on a live album, scheduled for release in November. It'll offer a surprising contrast to the often gentle studio recording "Trio 99-00," the guitarist said. "These two records ... by the same guys, made in a short period, have moments that are unrecognizable as each other."
How does he feel now, after nearly 30 albums as leader or co-leader, after writing film scores and touring the globe, about his experience growing up on the Kansas City jazz scene?
"For me it was the greatest possible place to grow up. When I think back on how lucky I was to be around the musicians in Kansas City at such a young age, I see it's given me a real advantage over many people in my age group. By the time I was 18, I'd worked two or three years around Kansas City with guys who were on the highest level, who rival the people I play with today."
The things he learned on local bandstands weren't just technical, though. "I love the purity and sincerity Kansas City musicians have toward the music they make, due to the fact that the music itself is what sustains a lot of musicians around KC. They're doing it because they love to play, and that's incredibly valuable to me."
He remembers that attitude and tries to make it his own: "I attribute it to the guys who took me under their wing."
As this trio phase of his career comes to a close, Metheny looks forward to some beginnings.
"Within a few weeks I'll be a dad for the second time," he says proudly. The new arrival will be his second son. The first, Nicolas Djakeem, is turning 2. The name Djakeem combines a North African name, in honor of his mother's homeland, with the moniker of guitar legend Django Reinhardt.
"After I spend some time getting acquainted with the little guy, we'll be starting a new Pat Metheny Group project. Then the whole thing" -- recording, touring -- "will start over again."
The wunderkind-turned-master, who hasn't played before a Kansas City audience since July 1998, says: "It's going to be great to come to Kansas City and play. It's notable because, of all the gigs where I've come back, this is the first time in a situation other than the regular larger Pat Metheny Group."
"These are the kind of gigs I do constantly in Europe or in Japan, but rarely in Kansas City. It's great to be able to bring this band I'm really proud of and to play other kinds of stuff."
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