Thesis: almost regardless the long career Pat Metheny continues to “grind” jazz and make it evolve, while never betraying his perspective as a musician deeply tied to the Midwest country folk culture.
Pat Metheny in any of his incarnations stays true to his roots, his influences, and the jazz he has chosen as the main expressive style. And it is undeniable that from that perspective he absorbs the world in its evolution, contributing to it.
Transversally to the changes of label that marked important phases, from the ECM settings to the PMG golden Geffen decade (1986-1996), through the formations changes and illustrious supporting actors, trying a rough cataloging, I believe we can essentially identify four load-bearing personalities: distinguishable and always defined within the great sea of jazz-fusion.
The one in which the free and experimental side is preminent, is clearly visible: in the fundamental Song X with Ornette Coleman, in the noisy protest of Zero Tolerance For Silence or considering the Orchestrion project concept. The recent collaboration with John Zorn if we want, but I wouldn’t open the participations chapter for space reasons now…
The PMG unique style
Then somethinq unique in music’ hystory: the peaks of the Pat Metheny Group in the 1980s.
A fundamental chapter, which can be sketched in parallel with the career of another giant such as Lyle Mays and whose style will constantly contaminate the entire repertoire of Lee’s Summit guitarist.
The “institutional” jazz profile
Despite these two expressions, Metheny keeps the “institutional profile”, the more jazzy side, very high. A prolific world ranging from 80/81, to the fascinating Rejoicing with Charlie Haden, passing through the spectacular Question and Answer of 1990 or ten years later in Trio 99 00: the most “chamber” formations as Like Minds with Corea and Burton, the beautiful coexistence with Brad Mehldau a few years later, up to the “great personality” electric experiences such as I Can See Your House From Here (1994) together with Scofield’s guitar mastery and still the modern formalisms undertaken together with the Unity Band (2012-2016) or with the Cuong Vu trumpet in 2016.
The Metheny transversal “jazz-country-world” style
But a transversal universe, more elusive and fascinating, always seems to filter between the cracks of his endless production; not without ups and downs, not without risks. Since the early works in the late 70s, there have been decidedly successful hybrids, between orchestrations and country flashbacks. This is the case of Secret Story from ’92, very indebted to the style of the Group, the primordial and intense roots’ journey of New Chautauqua (1979), the soundtrack of Map of The World (1999) and the sublime Beyond The Missoury Sky again with Haden in 1996.
Carl Gustav Jung said that the first dream brought into analysis is the most important one as it reveals the psyche, and in fact his 1976 Bright Size Life debut despite the form of an electric jazz trio, is overwhelmingly imbued by naturalistic elements read in a contemplative key: the titles Omaha Celebration, Missouri Uncompromised, Midwestern Nightdreams already speak clearly. Metheny’s spirit is there, where Mark Twain set his novels, between those long hot summers and those endless starry nights in the beating heart of the American world.
Here the cards on the table are mixed and the boundary between jazz, Missouri’s folk and the guitar as “an end in itself” appears blurred; it’s the idea of a universal tool with its own history and personality. This seems to me to be the true essence of Pat Metheny, whose determining ingredient is the recurring presence and the high transposition of those places, of that nature, of that tradition grafted into evolved environments, becoming universal language, contemporary fusion.
His has always been an identitary “America” and at the same time immersed in a transitive vagueness. That America Undefined is, not surprisingly, the title opening its latest, complex work: From This Place. It is therefore “from this place” that an important chapter of the Methenyan epic begins.
So important for a successful realization, a conception expressing an evolutionary will in respect of the PMG experience, as orchestrated on improvised recordings at the culminating moment of approaching the new scores. A synthesis of different worlds brought to light as a (still) natural event: a method learned, according to the same author, during the recent tour with Ron Carter who would have revealed the secrets of Miles Davis in the preparation of works such as Sorcerer or Nefertiti.
An initial leading theme, a serious one, for an over 13 minutes’ suite exposing the plot that will be supporting all the work: the omnipresent PMG’s inspiration together with a fine orchestral embroidery and a classical derivation’s piano to shore up the Metheny’s harmonic-melodic’s dynamism.
A crescendo ending setting the seal to reopen with Wide and Far, yet another environmental title, successfully conducted by a Rodby’s style double bass (Linda May Han Oh) that brings to mind legendary 5-5-7 (Letter From Home 1989).
Challenging and brilliant start, which sees in You Are a reflexive but without failure moment, counterpointed by brazilian-flavored choirs, almost a conditioned reflex, to resume the double bass to lead the notes of the refined complexity of Same River where the piano leads to joyful introspections before the entrance (as a condemning sentence) of synth guitar.
It is no longer possible to distinguish Metheny from himself and the “Corean” (in the sense of Chick) Pathmaker opens to the evocative and environmental The Past In Us bringing on the scene the harmonica of Gregoire Maret who (in my ear) seems to caress the atmospheres by Toots Thielemas in Jaco’s Three Views of a Secret.
Influence of the Latin world, as in a “My Spanish Heart” mood, filmed in Everything Explained to open up to an unexpected and “romantic” final triptych: the title track sung by a funk bass’ queen as a perfect ballads singer (Me Shell Ngedeocello), Sixty- Six, a self-quote from Last Train Home resolving in an intriguing band-orchestra dialogue and finally the elegant Love May Take Awhile which would be the ideal soundtrack for a Frank Capra’s movie, in which Metheny pays homage to Wes Montgomery’s guitarism as perpetual inspirational source.