by Jordan McLachlan for Guitarist Magazine, May 1995
We live here announces a house proud Pat Metheny. Hepcat Jordan McLachlan admires the soft furnishings at la maison de jazz.
He's jazz because he plays a hollow body guitar. He's fusion because he has a band with cool drums and keyboards. He's world music because he sometimes sounds a bit Brazilian. And he's acid jazz because he blends all of the above with drum loops on his new album. So just where does Pat Metheny fit in?
The short answer is, he doesn't. None of the little pigeonholes we construct to take our favourite artists is really Metheny shaped, and yet his writing isn't contrived to transcend boundaries, it simply does. The number of people who, on hearing that I was going to talk to "...this jazz/fusiony guitarist called Pat Metheny" responded along the lines of "Oh really, I love some of his stuff", you just wouldn't believe.
Funky drummers in acid jazz outfits, musicians studying jazz piano, rock guitarists, mums at home - they all have a Metheny CD or two in close proximity to the home entertainment system at all times. These are not the reactions of 'nouveau fans' though, educated with regard to a musician's output via MTV's 'Unplugged' and subsequently an authority, as a consider able percentage of Mr Clapton's record buyers currently are. No, these people really dig Metheny.
This broad appeal is testament to the talents and vision of a musician who was teaching at Berklee before he was out of his teens, yet has never succumbed to the horrors of fusion excess and is as happy playing a nylon string classical guitar as he is soloing on guitar synth. Pat Metheny is a series of paradoxes; don't try and work him out, just enjoy.
Take his latest release, We Live Here - repetitive rhythm patterns and serious jazz chords and compositions which meld together so wonderfully that you can either chill and let the music wash over you, or allow yourself to be drawn in to explore what each player is experiencing. Well, what do you expect, it's a Metheny album, after all...
"With the new album I wanted to use loops that you've heard a zillion times before and see what we could do with them", Pat explains. "I had the technology to do it in terms of samplers and so on, although I usually use that stuff to come up with textures, so I just began to get some loops together from here and there. I really liked the idea of using loops that got to the point of really being hypnotic and letting the harmonic and melodic interest be the focus of the tune."
"The album contains some of the most closely collaborative things that Lyle [Mays, keyboards] and I have done for some time. Recently he's tended to help me finish off some tunes that I've come along with, but this time we worked together right from the start - we've been doing this for 17 years, so we really know how to write for this band, which I think comes across on the album."
The use of drum loops and the fusion of laid back hip-hop and general jazzness puts a British fan of such things in mind of Ronny Jordan - has Pat come across his wares?
"I've heard some of his stuff on the radio, but it sounded like he was playing primarily on one or two chords; I love chords so much that I don't really enjoy playing over just a one chord groove. Even two chords are better than one!
"That's one of the things I enjoyed about playing on Bruce Hornsby's album; although his stuff might strike you as being fairly straightforward, it's harmonically more complex than it seems at first. I had to play some stuff that was really moving around, so it was fun to do."
As much fun as Pat has playing with others (and he does it a lot; last year alone he was to be found in the company of Antonio Carlos Jobim, Roy Haynes and John Scofield, on various ventures), taking the Pat Metheny Group out on the road is high on his list of priorities. And when they hit the venue, with 20 albums to choose from, the band find they stick around for a good while...
"At the moment we're playing for three hours, because there's so much material to choose from. It is tiring, not so much physically but mentally, the improvisation requires a lot of concentration, and to maintain that over three hours can be hard. But yeah, it really is difficult choosing the material for a concert, I guess about 25-30% of what we're doing live at the moment is from the new record and the rest of the show is made up of things people like to hear!"
The nucleus of the live Pat Metheny Group is the same as that on record over the last few years, including the ubiquitous Mr Mays...
"Lyle's on keyboards, then we have Steve Rodby on bass, who's been with us for about 14 years. Paul Wertico is on drums; he joined the group in 1983. It's a real family feel when we're all on the road together and musically we've all been playing together so long that we're totally compatible with each other."
Such is the appeal of Mr Metheny's music that he's not restricted to the clubs frequented by so many other 'jazz' guitar players. In the UK for example the Group will be appearing at the Royal Festival Hall and the Cambridge Corn Exchange.
"In America we can play 20,000 seaters, but it varies country to country. I always enjoy coming to Europe though and England will be fun to do in June."
One of the reasons for Pat's popularity with the non-muso surely stems from the fact that he is about as far from the typical fusion guitar bore as Birmingham City are from success in the Premier division...
"One of the things I was always being told was that you should go somewhere in a solo", he elucidates. "With a lot of fusion players today you can transpose the beginning of a solo for the end or the middle in a sense, it tends to have less of a direction. Saying something with a solo is important to me; it has to go somewhere, otherwise it means nothing."
"I have to say though that the standard of guitar players today is much higher than when I started playing. When I started out if you could play over a few changes you were pretty good, but right now it seems that everyone can do that!"
Sadly, as is ever the case, a high technical standard is no guarantee of originality and there are enough Metheny clones around to confirm this. Can Pat spot his doppelgangers at first hearing, and is it flattering?
"Yeah, I guess I can identify certain aspects of my playing if they surface somewhere else, and it is kind of flattering. It's funny, I've talked to [John] Sco[field] about it before, because he's another one who players tend to sound similar to, and his sound appears all over. Players tend to pick up on his use of chorus and so on, and it's like my thing with the delays; it's kind of easy to emulate that sort of thing."
"Anyway, we ended up saying that if you model yourself on someone like Pat Martino and you can play, you'll end up sounding pretty good! Someone like Pat is so amazing that if you can come close to it you'll be pretty impressive. If you try and do me though you're less likely to blow people away!"
Despite the number of astounding players around at the moment, it is somehow no surprise to find out who Pat really listens to...
"Well, it would really be the guys that everybody mentions I guess, Bill Frisell and John Scofield. They're both fantastic players and they really have their own identities, which I think is what draws people to them."
"But that's not where it stops because my tastes are pretty varied and if someone's doing something original then I want to hear it. Eddie Van Halen is just about one of the most distinctive players to happen; I really like his playing."
The last time Guitarist spoke to Pat (September 1992), he admitted not buying any new gear in the preceding four years. "I should probably update one of these days because I know there are all kinds of new things that have come out" were his words. Well, a couple of years on and sure enough, Mr M has popped down the shops and come back with something suitably high tech...
"Yeah, I hadn't upgraded my gear for years", he laughs, "but now I'm using the new DigiTech GSP2101 which is working out really well. It does everything I want it to in one box, it's great. Guitar-wise I've been involved with Ibanez on a couple of Pat Metheny signature guitars, the PM1 and PM2 which are single and double cutaways respectively. They should be available from the middle of this year I think, and I'm really happy with them. The prototype I played on the whole of Question And Answer was basically like the Joe Pass model, with a different neck and pickup position, We've worked a little more on pickup placement and things now and it's turned out well. With the two cutaways you get total access to all 24 frets, which is kind of unusual for a jazz guitar."
From Bright Size Life, Pat's 1976 debut which featured the prodigious talents of bassman Jaco Pastorius, to the relaxed grooves of We Live Here, Mr Metheny has worked at a pace that would have seen many others fall by the wayside long ago. The 18 albums he has recorded in between have encompassed everything from work with trios - Rejoicing, with Charlie Haden (bass) and Billy Higgins (drums) and Question And Answer with Dave Holland (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums) - to solo albums - New Chautauqua, on which Pat plays electric bass and 15 string harp guitar as well as electric and acoustic guitars and 1994's Zero Tolerance For Silence.
This last album so struck Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore that he described it as, "...the most radical recording of this decade. An incendiary work by an unpredictable master, a challenge to the challengers..."
We've also been treated to live albums: Travels from 1983 and The Road To You, which followed a decade later. Other musical milestones in Metheny's career include the diverse classic Offramp, the first on which he employed a guitar synth and the 1986 album Song X, recorded with free jazz alto player/composer Ornette Coleman. All in all then, a distinguished recording career and no mistake, yet this is only one side of Pat's work, - he has also been closely involved in writing for movie soundtracks, so for film buffs or total Metheny-heads who might want to check them out, here are some of the more significant examples of his music to picture efforts...
1983 saw Pat as guest soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra on the film score for Under Fire, which starred both Nick Nolte and Gene Hackman. Unlike most of his film involvements, this particular project didn't feature Metheny compositions, instead the soundtrack was composed and conducted by Jerry Goldsmith.
The next year brought with it possibly the most well known of Pat's film scores. The Falcon And The Snowman, the stars of which included Timothy Hutton and Sean Penn, featured a Metheny/Mays soundtrack which was written and recorded by the two musicians and boasted a collaboration with none other than The Thin White Duke. This Is Not America was an international hit for Messrs Bowie, Mays and Metheny.
Having released As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls in 1981, a sizable chunk of the album was used for the Steven Spielberg produced Fandango three years later. Mr Spielberg's name also crops up on Pat's CV around 1986 in the shape of an episode of his Amazing Stories, entitled 'Grandpa's Ghost', for which Metheny composed the soundtrack. Interestingly enough, this episode was directed by Tim Hutton, who starred in Under Fire if you remember. Small world, n'est ce pas?
Talking in French for a second, Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal used a Metheny composition for a Richard Levi choreographed piece, first seen at the 1988 Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. Très bon. Back on the cinematic trail, all those with an aversion to things with eight legs would have missed Pat's Going Ahead, as used on Arachnophobia's soundtrack. They won't hurt you, you know.
It is perhaps little surprise that Metheny has enjoyed such success with scoring for film and TV. His approach to music generally and the rich tapestries weaved as a result of his arrangements is cinematic, and as evocative as the moving image; as such he richly deserves the praise that he has garnered over the years, reflected in the multiple Grammys that no doubt grace his smallest room.
Thanks to Marc Lensink for this document. On my Pat Metheny Links page you can find a link to his site.
|maintained by Thomas Hönisch||TOP||last update: October 14, 2001|