November 1997, by Aaron Rennie, daily music editor, The Michigan Daily
As is the case with many excellent jazz musicians, Pat Metheny is a virtuoso on his instrument, the guitar, yet he toils in relative obscurity to the populace as a whole; despite his nine Grammy Awards and touring and recording with some of the greatest musicians this century, most college students wouldn't know Pat Metheny from Pat Benatar.
Those in the know, however, realize that Metheny has miles more talent in his left pinkie than, say, megapopular and tuneless pretty boy Gavin Rossdale of Bush has in his whole body. At the Michigan Theater tonight, the Pat Metheny Group - Lyle Mays, Steve Rodby, Paul Wertico, David Blamires, Mark Ledford and Armando Marcal - will likely blow away listeners' minds with its multi-faceted, experimental sonic attack. In a recent interview, Metheny spoke about his ensemble's new tour and explained the methods behind his improvisational madness.
The Pat Metheny Group, throughout the years, has toured the U.S. and the world relentlessly, but Metheny and his henchmen have toned it down of late in order to work on their latest album, the recently released "Imaginary Day." "I'm looking forward to (the tour) so much," Metheny said. "It's been a couple of years since I've done one of these heavy-hittin' tours. It's been mostly recording and some smaller club tours (of late)."
Having played almost everywhere in this country since joining Gary Burton's band at age 19 in the mid-'70s, Metheny has more than two decades of insight into places where he tends to play "hot" concerts before rapturous audiences. "In real general terms, the East Coast gigs tend to be really great, particularly New Jersey and Philadelphia. (That area's) got that kind of energy of the New York thing without the jadedness of actual Manhattanites," Metheny said. "At this point, we've been around long enough that there's always a core of people who come to the gigs that really know the music and know the band's history, and that tends to inspire you. Every night you can find something that's cool that's particular to that night."
Metheny is also excited about the opportunity of playing here in Ann Arbor. "College audiences traditionally have always been interested in music in a general sense," said Metheny. "There's always been a lot of curiosity amongst college-aged kids, who are usually in the process of figuring out their own personal aesthetics and that makes them a really fun audience to play for."
Given the diversity of students at such a large school, as well as in Ann Arbor as a whole, the audience at the Michigan Theater may very well be as eclectic as others Metheny has noticed throughout his years of touring America. Scenarios such as "Phish fans sitting next to a 50-year-old jazz buff and his wife," have consistently been common, noted Metheny. "Our thing has always been across the board racially, especially in Michigan. In Detroit (where the Pat Metheny Group will play on Friday), we've always had a larger black audience than anything else. Promoters are always commenting on the variety of people that show up at our gigs."
Material for this tour's typical three-hour concerts will include some songs from the excellent "Imaginary Day," and Metheny is very excited to test them out. "I'm curious how a bunch of them are gonna play, because unlike in the old days, where we always played 'em live for a few months before we recorded it, this record was done where we wrote the music and then recorded it, and now we're going to figure out how to play it," Metheny said.
Such a love for nightly improvisation - as well as his vast technical skill on the guitar- has led Metheny to cross paths with many jazz legends, such as Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Joshua Redman and Jaco Pastorius, for which he feels extremely fortunate. "With Ornette, we're talking about one of the world's greatest musicians. The experience of playing with him will always rate as one of the greatest thrills I've ever had. I'm still recovering in a lot of ways from just the amount of information that was passed along on that tour," Metheny said.
Speaking of Hancock, who be playing the Michigan Theater with Wayne Shorter on Nov. 22, Metheny was also overcome with an attack of superlatives. "Herbie is my hero in a lot of ways. He's my favorite musician," Metheny said. "If he's within 100 miles from where I am and I have a night off, I want to hear him. He's my man."
Metheny has been lauded himself, with the aforementioned Grammies, but he doesn't view them as the end-all of his career. "I was touring with Sonny Rollins one time, and in the middle of the night he called me up and he was listening to the tape of that night's show and he just said, 'Pat, you sounded really good tonight. You were playing really good.' Man, I'd trade all those awards for that one phone call. For me, that made all the work that I'd put in to trying to be a good musician pay off."
By all means, venture down Liberty Street to the Michigan Theater tonight to witness the rich aural soundscapes and serious chops this modest man and his bandmates will produce. It will certainly be worth your while.
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