Pat Metheny - Still Life With Guitar in 45/8

Wire Magazine, Issue 66, August 1989, pg 22

by Mike Fish

"I'm sitting at home. The phone rings. Hello? Hello, this is Steve Reich."

Pat Metheny felt his jaw drop. Like the country round his birthplace in Missouri, Metheny is still unspoilt territory. When Reich asked him to perform and record Electric Counterpoint, the guitarist felt honoured. It was probably a bit easier for him, though, when he heard the composer's first question: how do you tune the guitar?

"Now, I wish I'd played it better. About the fifth overdub in, I sort of got it. My idea at the start was, OK, I want to play this piece in a looser way, not in an exact metronomic way. In retrospect, though, it would have been much easier if I'd played it straight up and down. I ended up having to compensate for all my earlier rhythmic variations as the flow of the piece grew. It got a bit messy around the seventh or eighth overdub. Which actually Steve liked - maybe that's why he chose someone like me to play it opposed to a classical guy."

The disciplines of Reich's overdub extravaganza aside, Metheny has been busy since he last spoke with this journal (Wire 43). He loves to tour - he must have been on the road at least a year to support the Still Life (Talking) album - and the Pat Metheny Group has spent the early part of this year recording his next instalment for Geffen, Letter From Home. It's scarcely a departure from their last few records - all the leader is looking for in the way of change is "More resonance, more detail" - so it's almost an hour of picked textures, ripe melody and blue-sky jazz-rock. Even the 55 seconds of "45/8" are important in the context of the record.

"That's literally in 45/8, a bar of 23 and one of 22, and they alternate. That was written when I was heavily into my threes and twos thing. I don't think you can get away with more eighth notes in one bar. But the truth is, we needed something that wasn't in a minor key, after four tunes in a row that were either C minor or G minor or D minor. OK, we're in sharp keys for a minute!

Lucky for him that the synclavier system can handle much of the technical detail. Pat has two, maybe three dozen guitars at his disposal, but keeping it all tied up with the synclavier system is a costly business.

"And it's for really stupid things. Like memory, which doesn't do anything - it just sits there and holds what you've got. But it's really expensive, like a thousand bucks a megabyte. I need it all, though. I need more than the system is capable of giving me at the moment. I'm just a junkie for the stuff."

Metheny says his biggest problem is time, or the lack of it. A conversation with him is always an unhurried business, but a lot of people ask for his time. He finally appeared on stage with Ornette's Prime Time last year - "It was burning. We went all the way out and back." He would love to do a trio date with Ornette and Denardo Coleman. While he agrees that Prime Time records are less than faithful to the band's sound, "I thought the last record was good. It was also a real statement from Denardo - he did some real cool, ultramodern stuff in terms of production decisions on that record."

Besides that, there is an intriguing-sounding new trio set for Impulse, done with Herbie Hancock and Jack DeJohnette - live tracks embellished by a plethora of synclavier material. Metheny says he's never heard another record like it. While some guitarists, such as Stanley Jordan and Michael Gregory, "one of the best cats I've ever heard", are looking towards a techno-soul direction, there are Scofield and Frisell on the left, Metheny himself somewhere in the middle. Pat reckons this is a tremendous time for the guitar, and it's hard to disagree.

Expect the PMG to be in your neighbourhood again in the autumn. Meanwhile, just like two summers ago, their new record will be an agreeable soundtrack for the long evenings. It's obvious, though, that Metheny is itching to go out and play some more. Or just to check out someone else.

"Is there anyone I should be going out to see tonight?" he asks, looking at the door.

Maintained by Thomas Hoenisch TOP last update: July 1998