METHENY'S MOST AT HOME ON THE ROAD

From the Philadelphia Inquirer, Friday, March 17, 1995
by Karl Stark


He's out there almost 200 nights a year, single, sober, and striving to get better all the time.

Pat Metheny doesn't just play a concert. He prepares by stoking the inner flame.

An evening performance actually begins at 4 PM, when the woolly-haired guitarist stops talking. He goes for a four-mile run after eating little or nothing the entire day. "I just feel better if I'm hungry when I play," he explains.

He doesn't drink. In fact, Metheny has never had alcohol in his life. Mostly, he sits around picking out lines on his hollow-body, Ibanez electric guitar and getting himself up for the prime event of his life: a concert on the road.

Metheny, 40, who appears with his band Saturday at the Tower Theatre (a show Sunday in Glassboro is sold out), is that rare performer who feels more comfortable on tour than at home.

"Going on the road is when my life becomes most together," he said by phone last week from yet another gig. "It's got a regularity that I rarely find at home."

"Going on the road is when my life becomes most together," he said by phone last week from yet another gig. "It's got a regularity that I rarely find at home."

While most people travel to take a vacation, Metheny has to stay put to take a break. Even then, he's never far from the guitar -- or the computer that is an increasingly important part of his art.

From December 1993 through April 1994, Metheny basked in the weather and imbibed the sounds of multicultural Miami, a midpoint between his native Midwest and Brazil, his home from 1986 to 1990.

The results of last winter's hiatus are captured in We Live Here (Geffen), the Metheny group's first release since 1989. It is a summing up of the state of contemporary pop music as seen by Metheny,keyboardist and longtime collaborator Lyle Mays, and the band: bassist Steve Rodby, drummer Paul Wertico, percussionist Luis Conte, vocalists Mark Ledford and David Blamires.

These days, the Metheny band cruises on the hip-hop rhythms of the street, but never gets nasty. The funk is friendly, often highly sculptured. The music projects a smooth jazz feel, but with Metheny's melodic soloing and rigorous harmonies at its heart, the CD rises above many of its smooth brethren.

Still, it's a recording with the multi-pronged appeal of an ad campaign. The beat is hip-hop, the soloing is jazz, the accents are often Brazilian, and the hovering synthesizers smack of New Age.

There's even some good old soul, although it takes an acute listener to catch it. Metheny dedicates the tune "Something To Remind You" to Thom Bell, the legendary and once Philadelphia-based producer who assembled sublime charts for the Stylistics, the Spinners and others.

"To me he's kind of unsung," Metheny remarks of Bell. "Those Stylistic tunes from the '70s were these real little jewels of melody and harmony in a pop form that didn't welcome the kind of detail he brought to it. They're just really interesting pieces of music."

With so many influences, Metheny runs the risk of covering the diversity of pop music well but doing nothing deep enough to be memorable. The impact of this recording sags by the end. The diversity of styles often produces a sonic sameness, a deadening similarity.

Metheny believes these layers give the work depth. "What I like about it is the way the whole thing hangs together," says Metheny, who wrote nearly all the tunes with Mays. "It hangs together almost like a suite, like one long tune."

It helps that Metheny remains a jazz player at heart who minces no words about his debt to the great guitarist Wes Montgomery. "Wes was the cat for me," he says. "He had a deep influence on me, the way he found his own voice and developed his melodic sense, the way he got from point A to point B."

Metheny also injects some spontaneity into the project. When a full-scale thunderstorm broke out during the recording, Metheny neatly appended it to the tune To the End of the World. Now that represents a solo appearance by a sideman of a higher order.

Metheny himself is a down-to-earth midwesterner who grew up in Lee's Summit, Mo., where his parents still reside.

His mother still talks of the time when Pat, then a fifth grader, got his first guitar with money the family raised in a garage sale. "He found the guitar and we lost him," Lois Metheny says of her younger son's obsession with practicing. "He knew exactly where he wanted to go and what he wanted to do, and he went for it."

Pat's older brother, Mike, 45, a trumpeter, was the family's most celebrated musician at the time. But Pat, who attended the University of Miami, hooked up with vibraphonist Gary Burton in 1974, and soon launched his own group projects.

His 1978 album on ECM, The Pat Metheny Group, gave him a national reputation, which has continued to grow. Each of his group's last six recordings has won a Grammy.

Metheny denies tailoring his current CD to popular tastes. The eight-time Grammy winner said he hasn't had a career that required him to worry about marketing.

His success has given him the freedom to try different projects, such as last year's Zero Tolerance For Silence (DGC/Geffen), nearly 40 minutes of biting, industrial-strength solo guitar.

Metheny also keeps a hand in pure jazz projects, such as tenor saxophonist Joshua Redman's Wish of 1993 and guitarist John Scofield's I Can See Your House From Here last year.

But his success has come largely from his own groups. In deconstructing We Live Here, listeners will notice a subtle brew of elements that constitute what's popular right now.

Undergirding everything are some zesty street beats. Metheny culled these rhythms from his winter sojourn in Miami last year. They are the essence of what he heard in clubs and on the radio in that most Latin of southern U.S. cities.

Metheny doesn't especially like the rhythm loops. "The problem I have with the concept of drum loops is that they tend to be real flat," he says. "They hang there."

His solution was to pick the spiciest he could find and have drummer Paul Wertico season them further. When they play live, Wertico can trigger the drum loops and, of course, add to them.

The music also brings Metheny's jazz sensibility to the fore, proving yet again that his solos are often among the most handsome of any guitarist of his generation.

Metheny sticks out from his peers in other ways. For his entire life, he says -- and his parents agree -- he has not taken a single drink or engaged in the recreational use of drugs. He has no moral reason to abstain, he says, except that staying straight produces better music. His first attention has always been to the guitar.

"My main goal since I was 12 was to get real good," Metheny says. "That's still my main focus. I'm getting close where I can say I'm playing the way I want to play."

Metheny has learned he can improve only while playing live. "It's the only way I've found I can grow a lot. It's because it's the real thing. There's a certain kind of intensity that happens in front of an audience that takes you to a different place," he says.

"In practice, it's black and white. Live, it's real." Metheny pays a high price for the life of a road musician. He remains unmarried, he says, in part because he spends more than 200 nights a year on the road. "The thing that makes long-term relationships so difficult is that I'm gone so much."

Still, he now wants a family and doesn't plan on living out of a suitcase forever.

All of which makes his live performances an event.

"It's the thing I love doing most."


Special Thanks to Matt Snyder.


maintained by Thomas Hönisch TOP last update: October 14, 2001