by Ken Micaleff
Pat Metheny is known to many as the quintessential jazz-lite band leader of the ‘80s and ‘90s. But to many others he is nothing less than one the finest guitarists currently playing the instrument. The past ten years have seen Metheny branching away from his immensely successful Pat Metheny Group to record albums with Michael Brecker, Gary Thomas, Joshua Redman and John Scofield, to name just a few. But his latest recording, with widely acknowledged jazz guitar master Jim Hall, rings closer to Metheny's roots than anything since his 1970's classic, Bright Size Life.
In a purely duo setting -- with Hall on his trademark electric and Metheny on a variety of axes ranging from the 42-string Pikasso to a fretless classical guitar -- the pair spin wide webs of grace and beauty, like dancers circling but never quite touching down. What's particularly surprising is how similar the two sound, which Metheny quickly explains as his devotion to the single-note, high-resonance Hall style. From standards such as "All the Things You Are" and "Summertime," to bright covers of songs by Steve Swallow and Atila Zoller (the gorgeous "The Birds and the Bees"), to inspired originals, the Hall/Metheny duo make sublime, glistening music which resonates with mastery, skill and respect. Recorded both in front of a live audience and in the studio, their new album Jim Hall and Pat Metheny is hot stuff from two soft-spoken men.
The Guitar.com interview began as Pat Metheny was reminiscing about the good old days.
Pat Metheny: The Police were just starting in 1977 when we ran into them in a hotel. Andy Summers came up to me and said, "You're Pat Metheny. We play the tunes from Bright Size Life in soundcheck. When we were driving across country we saw the Lee Summit's exit (Metheny's Missouri hometown) and we'd pulled over to look at it." That was really cool. They were band number 45 from England at that point, then about two months later they were the biggest thing in the universe. I ran into Andy somewhere and we spent the afternoon playing together. Then I got to go backstage when they played Shea Stadium. They came in a helicopter. It was just like The Beatles. A few months ago this guy was talking about how they played Bright Size Life and now he's coming down in a helicopter!
Guitar.com: That was a rich period in pop music.
Metheny: It is very stratified now. I would be surprised if the up-and-coming groups are playing Joshua Redman tunes in their sound checks. Now jazz and pop are totally removed from each other, but at that point musicians were musicians. Now it's a cultural stratification as much as anything.
Guitar.com: Hip-hop reigns and rock ‘n‘ roll seems dead.
Metheny: It's been 45 years now that the backbeat has dominated...
Jim Hall: ...in my health club (laughs). I don't know what in hell it is.
Metheny: The two and four is really loud, though.
Hall: Man, it's the kind [of music] that makes you want to drag your knuckles and eat bananas when you leave... This kind of Neanderthal... Why don't they just play machine music or a pile-driver? (on second thought, maybe we won't send Jim the new Dr. Dre record for his birthday -- Ed).
Guitar.com: Pat, it's been your longtime dream to record with Jim Hall?
Metheny: Jim is one of my main heroes and one of the most important living musicians and a major influence on my playing and a whole generation of guitar players which I am a part of. Besides that, we play good together (laughs).
Hall: Right, that is the thing.
Metheny: When we first played together more than 15 years ago, it was obvious that we could just fall into a thing that was pretty special and rare. I've played with people I admire with some difficulty. And in this case it was very easy and the record is representative of that. We can play together.
Guitar.com: Jim, can you hear yourself in these younger players?
Hall: Not really, that's funny. I don't. If anything, I am still listening to these guys and wondering how they do it. I have that feeling every time I play with Pat. I leave the stage and say, "Man you do more things well than anybody." He plays great rhythm, he's got great time, he gets a beautiful sound, he plays finger-style. And that 40 string thing, the Pikasso guitar.
Study Hall: Pat Metheny Analyzes the Hall Phenomenon
If you think that Pat Metheny's and Jim Hall's guitar playing on their new album sound practically indistinguishable it's not because you have unskilled ears. It has more to do with the fact that Metheny consciously modeled his playing after Hall's. And he hasn't only mimicked it. He's studied it, analyzed it and interpreted exactly why it works.
Metheny: I'll explain it. One of Jim's major breakthroughs in what he offered the instrument was a way of increasing the apparent dynamic range of the guitar as a line instrument by picking softer and letting the amp do part of the job. Jim says by using the amp he could play softer and my interpretation of that is that he doesn't have to pick as hard to get the sound out of the instrument, and then when he does pick hard, it's bigger. Like, if you are picking really hard and you are hanging up here all the time (shows hand high up from the guitar), and you only have that much higher to go, you can't really pick any higher than that. What Jim does is, by picking in this certain range, by letting the amp do the thing, he has that much further to go. So, you increase the apparent difference from the softest note to the loudest note. And he will do that with this incredible shading dozens of times in the course of a single line. With so many jazz guitar guys, it's like hearing a monotone conversation, but Jim's thing has got this very natural and very continual rise and fall to it dynamically. And that breakthrough opened a door that myself, John Scofield, Bill Frisell, Mick Goodrick, John Abercrombie, and many others have taken to find our own thing. Yet to me it can all can be traced to Jim.
Guitar.com: When you all talk guitar, what do you talk about?
Both: We don't.
Metheny: At the end of the experience, which was a pretty intense four days this time -- we recorded for three days and then mixed it -- it was intense. I was really tuned into Jim's sound world and the way he played. I realized that I had meant to watch him. As much as I've listened to Jim, when I hear him the technical side of my brain turns off in a way, which I think is a real compliment. When I hear George Benson, I think, "How does he do that? I need to work on my picking," or Joe Pass makes me want to work on my voicings. But with Jim, I just tune out all that and I go into this other world of music. I don't think about how he does it. But there is a bunch of stuff I would like to know!
Hall: Believe it or not I was influenced by John Coltrane for all the arpeggiated stuff. I really worked on that. I practiced just setting the string in motion with the right hand and trying to do as much as possible with the left.
Metheny: That is specially one of the things, that thing of not picking every note. Getting the string going and then doing some stuff with it.
Hall: That goes back to using the amp carefully, too. If you are banging every note you can't get it.
Guitar.com: What are you favorites on the album?
Hall: I love what Pat does on "Summertime." I was awestruck by that.
Metheny: In addition to our single notey kind of playing, both of us really dig playing rhythm behind somebody. And that strumming thing on "Summertime," I just love doing that, and for Jim that rhythm thing he does is great.
Hall: But I couldn't do that "Summertime" thing. It sounds like a drummer playing on an open high hat. The "Improvs" are my favorites on the album, especially the one Pat plays on the Pikasso.
Metheny: We have a way of improvising together that is free. It doesn't sound free, it sounds almost composed. We are both thinking orchestrationally and harmonically. It's like making up little tone poems. We didn't talk a lot for this album, a lot of it just happened, which is how a lot of the best music happens.
Guitar.com: Was anything written specifically for this record?
Hall: The first one I wrote, called "Looking Up." I was thinking of Pat.
Guitar.com: How do you write a song thinking of Pat Metheny?
Hall: I was grinning (laughs). And I imagined that I had hair (laughs). So I grinned, imagine that.
Metheny: And I wrote one too -- that I actually had for a while, but which I thought was great for this -- called "Ballad Z."
Guitar.com: "Cold Spring" features really good, hot playing from Jim.
Hall: That is one that I arranged specifically for this date. My wife went to summer camp and learned that as a round. We'd sing it in the car.
Metheny: That is particularly well arranged for two guitars. It was a roadmap for us to work in.
Hall: My favorite solos are in the improvs. I did all right on "Farmers Trust."
Metheny: You are also amazing on "Don't Forget," which is a tune I wrote for an Italian movie a couple years ago.
Hall: That was hard for me.
Metheny: It doesn't sound hard. But man, just the way Jim plays the melody is profound.
Guitar.com: As artists, do you ever draw from other art forms; is it ever that literal?
Hall: I do. From painting. I am not an expert, but I do know [a good piece of art] when I see one. My first album on Telarc, Dedications and Inspirations, I thought literally of a painting by Miro. I thought of Miro's little spots on the canvas. I tried to make it like that. And I did one for Matisse where I overdubbed some stuff to resemble a collage. I don't listen to jazz that much. I get more out of art, especially short stories. The first line of a short story is very important. And I feel that way about a phrase of music as well. When you go on a bandstand, the first sound you make is really important. That is the first sound people hear and you want to draw them in and peak their curiosity.
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