In memory of Lyle Mays, the “dark side” of the Pat Metheny Group

“It would be possible to describe everything scientifically, but it would make no sense; it would be without meaning, as if you described a Beethoven symphony as a variation of wave pressure.”

Connor Sings a Classic Irish Tune
Connor Sings a Classic Irish Tune
Albert Einstein

In a totally rational dimension we would live without emotions. Without dark sides, without mystery, our existence would be terribly poor and without charm. We would be deprived of amazement and participation in all that is greatest, remaining awkwardly anchored on the ground like dry ships.

We would essentially be like the Pat Metheny Group without Lyle Mays.

In facing this kind of careers, it is impossible to be exhaustive in the space of an article. Almost infinite would be arguments and ideas, episodes worthy of analysis and dissertations. And even if we try to follow these impervious roads, we would be left empty-handed: the indefinable but recognizable art of Mays would make everything vain.

Going down memory lane seems on the other hand, the only thing to do: each of us fans bring their own personal story with Lyle sewn on.

Mine starts with love at first sight right in the middle of Fandango (Kevin Reynolds – 1985), a generational cult film.

The airy chords are crossed by a flow of pure evocation. Immediately a theme becomes the symbol of an age’s passage: the end of illusions and the melancholy baggage of hopes that it brings as a dowry.

Watch this video on YouTube.

One day we will understand why the city of Wichita is so important for music, as well as the history of the Pat Metheny Group: one of the few fusion formations constantly able to reach the vaste public maintaining the highest musical quality.

But that poignant melodic line was not created for Kevin Costner leaving for Vietnam, it appeared first in 1981: As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, a work in the name of Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays. The fabulous couple who made his debut in ’77 with Watercolors on behalf of Metheny, before explicitly becoming “Group” the following year giving life to compositions such as San Lorenzo and Phase Dance, in the eponymous dazzling debut (Pat Metheny Group, ECM 1978).

The dawn of the long and passionate story of two boundless talents who have found the ideal place in each other: perfect amalgamation of Twain’s torrid Missouri summers and the primordial charm of the Great Lakes.

Their narrative cannot be divided, and despite Metheny’s monstrous, separate jazz career, the history of music has delivered them in an indivisible and compact PMG format.

And so it was that in the early 80’s, one of the most beautiful diaries ever recorded was born.

It’s 1983 and Travels is an unimaginable live, a luxurious journey between mid-western suggestions (Farmer’s Trust, Travels, The Fields, The Sky) and brazilian elegance (Straight on Red, Extradition, Goodbye).

A bold synthesis that Mays operates in an impressive way: the monumental Song For Bilbao, Phase Dance, Are You Going With Me, San Lorenzo are jewels of pure, exciting music.

Watch this video on YouTube.

Travels encompasses the first phase of life of the PMG and opens the second, paving the way to an absolute.

Along the transition from ECM to Geffen, free from the influence of Manfred Eicher, the two works to close the decade are exactly that absolute: predicted by Offramp (1982) and First Circle (1984), i’m talking about Still Life (Talking) (1987) and Letter From Home (1989).

If anyone had ever tried to conceive the perfect marriage between western music and south american, joining the two ends of the american continent, in these works he would have found the perfect satisfaction.

Watch this video on YouTube.

Here Lyle Mays reaches peaks difficult to match for anyone: harmonically, from the point of view of counterpoint, the themes, the solos, the sound as trademark and finally for those ideas still leaving us speechless.

Many could criticize my descriptive emphasis, but the risk is to give up with substance.

In the meantime the luxury of a fine solo album (Lyle Mays 1986), first of a few, and a production with powerful international reverberations, a real hit signed by Metheny/Mays together with a London singer, a certain David Robert Jones, also known as Bowie.

The movie The Falcon and The Snowman (1985), will be certainly remembered (only?) for the fascinating soundtrack featuring that unforgettable pop jewel named This is Not America.

Watch this video on YouTube.

From 1990 onwards everything is more fragmented, searching for a new identity, for a new present to challenge a cumbersome past.

Numerous changes of style and musicians, among the acid (jazz) influences of the best-selling We Live Here (1995) marking the change of decade and direction, up to the refined jazz chamberistic music in Quartet (1996) closing the golden Geffen era, opening to Warner Bros.

Backfires and new age hints in Imaginary Day (1997) and after long silence the elegance of Speaking of Now (2002).

Watch this video on YouTube.

Despite the always fine musical production, the fresh inspiration of the first period struggles to return and the experience ends three years later with The Way Up, a cultured 4-part suite that takes the Grammy for the best jazz 2006’s album with merit.

We just have to think bitterly that the “recurrent” and long illness had already begun to undermine the forces of our silent hero.

Surely his absence has “mysteriously” started to undermine ours.

Dedicated to my friend Luca Righi (we will be back in Paros one day).

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