THE DOZENS: TWELVE ESSENTIAL PAT METHENY PERFORMANCES by Mark Saleski

Guitarist Pat Metheny has recorded with so many musicians, and in so many different musical contexts, that it was a very difficult task to choose only twelve examples of his work. Metheny has played traditional jazz, modern jazz, Brazilian-influenced “world jazz,” noisy and jarring avant garde workouts, even film scores. In configurations ranging from large ensembles to quartets to trios to duos to the occasional solo presentation, he has been producing creative music going all the way back to 1975.



                        Pat Metheny,  artwork by Suzanne Cerny


The following performances reflect what I felt are the most important aspects of Metheny’s career. The tough part of the selection process came in the area of the trio. It almost seemed like a crime to leave out that 80/81 album, or the more straight ahead offerings found in Question and Answer. In the end, Trio 99→00 made the cut because I wanted to illustrate how Pat has not lost touch with his jazz roots.

So please check out my (current) favorite Pat Metheny performances.


Pat Metheny: Bright Size Life

Track

Bright Size Life

Artist

Pat Metheny (guitar)

CD

Bright Size Life (ECM 827133-2)

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar), Jaco Pastorius (bass), Bob Moses (drums).

Recorded: Tonstudio Bauer. Ludwigsburg, Germany. December, 1975

Albumcoverpatmethenybrightsizelife

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Pat Metheny's Bright Size Life ensemble avoided the “supergroup” moniker (and associated bad karma) by presenting compositions that allowed melodic invention and interplay to rule over runaway displays of chops. This title track from Metheny's debut release finds the guitarist running lines that are clearly inspired both by the inventive drumming of Moses and the muscular drive of close friend and jazz force of nature, the late Jaco Pastorius. Many artists shun their early work, finding it underdeveloped and embarrassing. It's a commentary on the strength of this performance that “Bright Size Life” remains in Metheny's live repertoire to this day, over thirty years after its release.

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


Pat Metheny: Phase Dance

Track

Phase Dance

Artist

Pat Metheny (guitar)

CD

Pat Metheny Group (ECM 1114)

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar), Lyle Mays (keyboards), Mark Egan (bass), Dan Gottlieb (drums).

Recorded: Talent Studio, Oslo. January, 1978

Albumcoverpatmethenygroup_

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

The longtime concert opener, "Phase Dance" provides a distillation of the early Pat Metheny Group sound. Metheny rolls out arpeggios with his guitar in the high-strung Nashville tuning, punctuating phrases with ringing artificial harmonics. When Pat steps out to take a solo, Lyle comps with both piano and slowly ascending notes from the Oberheim. Mays's piano solo further ratchets up the intensity as Gottlieb pushes forward on snare and cymbals, all of this supported by Egan's muscular, almost Jaco-esque bass lines. As is typical of the Metheny Group approach, a fair amount of dynamics are employed – during the first restatement of the main theme, everybody momentarily drops away leaving the piano lightly tracing the changes. . . But then it's full steam ahead to the end.

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


Pat Metheny: Ozark

Track

Ozark

Group

Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays

CD

As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar, bass), Lyle Mays (keyboards), Nana Vasconcelos (percussion, vocals).

Recorded: Talent Studio, Oslo. September, 1980

Albumcoverpatmethenyozark

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

This album opens with the long (20+ minutes) title track suite that explores an emotional scale ranging from sweet and pastoral all the way to dark and edgy. Tension is built up as a long, almost church-organ chord is held at the song's end. "Ozark" then sweeps away the fog and smoke of dark emotions by allowing Lyle Mays to shine with an enormous wave of chiming piano. Metheny contributes strummed acoustic guitar and counterpoint-laden arpeggios and harmonics, but this is clearly Lyle's vehicle. It's tough to describe how positive and hopeful this tune is, but let me say this: I can't play a note on the piano, but hearing "Ozark" brings up the urge to learn - every single time.

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


Pat Metheny: Farmer's Trust

Track

Farmer's Trust

Artist

Pat Metheny (guitar)

CD

Travels (ECM 1252/53)

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar), Lyle Mays (keyboards), Steve Rodby (bass), Dan Gottlieb (drums), Nana Vasconcelos (percussion, vocals).

Composed by Pat Metheny

.

Recorded: Live at unidentified location, July - November, 1982

Albumcoverpmethenytravels

Rating: 96/100 (learn more)

I'll get right to the point: "Farmer's Trust" contains some of the prettiest and most romantic melodies that Pat Metheny has ever committed to tape. Pat's more 'open' compositions are often tagged with labels such as “pastoral” and “Midwestern.” While those terms are somewhat vague, they actually make perfect sense in the context of this wonderful ballad. Metheny plays a gorgeous melody line that sets up a short series of guitar and piano turns. All the while, Steve Rodby is at his understated best in his support role. I tell you, you can just imagine the wide-open spaces and waving grasses.

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


Pat Metheny: Are You Going With Me?

Track

Are You Going With Me?

Artist

Pat Metheny (guitar)

CD

Travels (ECM 1252/53)

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar), Lyle Mays (keyboards), Steve Rodby (bass), Dan Gottlieb (drums), Nana Vasconcelos (percussion).

Recorded: Live at unidentified location, July - November, 1982

Albumcoverpmethenytravels

Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

A guy I used to know complained once that Pat Metheny records were funny because you very often couldn't tell when the guitar was being played. Well, sure, guitar synthesizer is an odd instrument that can sound like so many other things (I once heard Pat play the blues on a television show with a donkey-bray patch!) -- so maybe it's not so obvious that a guitar is the physical source. Case in point: "Are You Going With Me?" finds Metheny and company setting up a slow & sparse vamp that's used as a launching pad for some crazy-intense guitar synth madness. When Pat plays this live, he actually leaves his feet several times during the solos. Levitation? OK, maybe not. But the music is so passionately delivered that you wouldn't be surprised if...

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


Pat Metheny: The Calling

Track

The Calling

Artist

Pat Metheny (guitar)

CD

Rejoicing (ECM 1271)

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar), Charlie Haden (bass), Billy Higgins (drums).

Recorded: Power Station, New York. November 29 and 30, 1983

Albumcoverpatmethenyrejoicing

Rating: 89/100 (learn more)

Question: What do Pat Metheny and Lou Reed have in common? Answer: Metal Machine Music. In Reed's case, it was often said that the album was done just to annoy the record company, a contractual obligations kind of thing. Folks on the Internet used to joke that Metheny recorded "The Calling" as a kiss-off to Manfred Eicher on his way out of ECM. Let the record state the obvious: Metheny recorded one more album for ECM (First Circle) the following year. Also, I've seen Pat play this noisefest (and I mean that in a good way!) twice: once on the First Circle tour, and many years later with Roy Haynes. "The Calling" is Pat Metheny at his noise-mining best – the elegiac main theme is fired out via the guitar synth, Haden and Higgins in sympathetic support. Slowly and inevitably, that theme is destroyed in favor of sheets of sound, guitar abuse, and chaos. Ugly beauty? You bet!

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


Pat Metheny: The First Circle

Track

The First Circle

Artist

Pat Metheny (guitar)

CD

First Circle (ECM 25008)

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar), Lyle Mays (keyboards), Steve Rodby (bass), Paul Wertico (drums),

Pedro Aznar (acoustic nylon string guitar, voice, bells, percussion)

.

Recorded: Power Station, New York. February 15-19, 1984

Albumcoverpatmetheny-firstcircle

Rating: 98/100 (learn more)

Starting off with a hand-clapping sequence in 22/8, "The First Circle" is one of the Metheny Group's most idiosyncratic works. Is it jazz? World music (whatever that means)? As you listen your way through each section, from the opening hand percussion to the intricate acoustic guitar bridge to Lyle Mays's surging synthesizer (and later piano) solo, you can't help but notice the feeling of lift. As the composition roars toward its conclusion, Pat's intensely strummed acoustic guitar is pitted against Pedro Aznar's impossibly beautiful wordless vocals. The first time I heard "The First Circle," it was at my first Metheny Group concert. It left me standing there with a slack jaw. Warning: it just might happen to you, too.

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


Pat Metheny & Ornette Coleman: Song X

Track

Song X

Artist

Pat Metheny (guitar) and Ornette Coleman (alto sax)

CD

Song X (Nonesuch 79007)

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar), Ornette Coleman (alto sax), Charlie Haden (bass), Jack DeJohnette (drums), Denardo Coleman (drums).

Recorded: Power Station, NYC. December, 1985

Albumcoverpatmetheny-ornettecoleman-songx

Rating: 91/100 (learn more)

In what can only be considered a musical perfect storm, Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny, Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette and Denardo Coleman crystallized the Ornette aesthetic into this aural diamond. That stellar rhythm section pushes Coleman and Metheny to nearly explosive levels of intensity. The interlocked (yet somehow completely independent) sax and guitar lines argue, collide, and finally cooperate to produce a defining moment in the careers of both men. Highly recommended.

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


Pat Metheny: Minuano (Six Eight)

Track

Minuano (Six Eight)

Artist

Pat Metheny (guitar)

CD

Still Life (Talking) (Nonesuch 79948)

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar), Lyle Mays (keyboards), Steve Rodby (bass), Paul Wertico (drums),

Armando Marcal (percussion, voice), David Blamires (voice), Mark Ledford (voice)

.

Composed by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays

.

Recorded: Power Station, New York. March/April, 1987

Albumcoverpatmethenystilllifetalking

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Like many songs from Metheny's 'Brazilian period,' "Minuano (Six Eight)" displays his penchant for making use of various influences within a single, multifaceted structure. A swirling introduction features wordless vocals that foreshadow the main theme brought forth in the second section. Pat then takes an extended guitar solo that seems like it's ready to burst as it leads into a restatement of the head. Just as you're ready for another repeat of that theme, an abrupt left turn is taken and a small army of percussion takes over, playing some inspiring marimba by way of Steve Reich. This makes the final return to the main melody all the more surprising. Really great stuff.

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


Pat Metheny: Imaginary Day

Track

Imaginary Day

Artist

Pat Metheny (guitar)

CD

Imaginary Day (Warner Bros. 9 46791-2)

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar), Lyle Mays (keyboards), Steve Rodby (bass), Paul Wertico (drums).

Recorded: Right Track Recording, New York. Spring, 1997

Albumcoverpmethenyiday

Rating: 93/100 (learn more)

When Imaginary Day first came out, it seemed like a huge step forward for the Pat Metheny Group. Great, dynamic shifts in mood and texture are nothing new for this ensemble, and yet the addition of instruments like the fretless acoustic guitar made the composition seem otherworldly. At several points, the entire band drops away, giving Wertico (with tremendous cymbal work) and Rodby space to kick off the next segment. Lyle Mays just might be the (second!) secret weapon here – his keyboard voicings definitely add to the exotic nature of this very cinematic work.

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


Pat Metheny: (Go) Get It

Track

(Go) Get It

Artist

Pat Metheny (guitar)

CD

Trio 99?00 (Warner Bros. 47632)

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar), Larry Grenadier (bass), Bill Stewart (drums).

Recorded: Right Track Recording, New York. August, 1999

Albumcoverpatmetheny9900

Rating: 90/100 (learn more)

Pat Metheny was driven toward jazz by the discovery of one of his brother Mike's Miles Davis records (Four and More). All these years later, it's still fairly obvious that Pat likes nothing better than to architect a harmonic structure and then take a run though it. Metheny is clearly inspired here by the drumming of Bill Stewart, as they trade maniacal fours near the end of "(Go) Get It." Stewart, along with Larry Grenadier, swing like men possessed as Pat winds his way through the changes with characteristic abandon. This is a terrific example of Metheny in a more traditional jazz context.

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


Pat Metheny: Opening

Track

Opening

Artist

Pat Metheny (guitar)

CD

The Way Up (Nonesuch 79876)

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Musicians:

Pat Metheny (guitar), Lyle Mays (keyboards), Steve Rodby (bass), Cuong Vu (trumpet, voice),

Gregoire Maret (harmonica), Antonio Sanchez (drums)

.

Recorded: Right Track Recording, New York. 2003-04

Albumcoverpatmethenywup

Rating: 95/100 (learn more)

With some staccato guitar parts early on (reminiscent of his work on Steve Reich's Electric Counterpoint), this edition of the Pat Metheny group launches into an extended masterwork: the nearly 70-minute-long The Way Up. What's amazing about this short introduction (a shade over five minutes) is that nearly all of the elements to follow are referred to in one way or another – very syncopated rhythms, interlocking melodies, drastic shifts in temp, texture, and volume. Most impressive are the mini-conversations that seem to occur between the instruments as phrases appear to be handed off in quick succession from the guitar to the piano to the trumpet and back. Credit newcomers Cuong Vu, Gregoire Maret, and (especially!) drummer Antonio Sanchez for rounding out the most inspiring lineup Pat has worked with to date.

Reviewer: Mark Saleski


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