Pat Metheny: Watercolors (ECM 1097)

1097 X

Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny guitars
Lyle Mays piano
Eberhard Weber bass
Dan Gottlieb drums
Recorded February 1977 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

From the opening strains of Pat Metheny’s second album, we immediately know that we have a calming yet powerful journey ahead of us. The present company—among which keyboardist Lyle Mays, a Pet Metheny Group fixture, makes his first appearance—renders his characteristic combination of form and style into an instinctive wash of comfort. Mays’s pianism proves the perfect complement to the guitarist’s untainted sound. Just listen to the way he buoys the music in the opening title track, and his fluent solo in “River Quay,” and you will hardly be able to imagine the music without him. We get a lingering look at Metheny’s own abilities in “Icefire,” in which he solos on a cleverly tuned 12-string that lobs between solid chords and higher callings. Midway through, the music melts into its second titular half, flowering in a cluster of Ralph Towner-esque harmonics. “Oasis” introduces the harp guitar, a sympathetically strung instrument that shines in Metheny’s hands like the charango in Gustavo Santaolalla’s. A mournful electric sings at its center, ever shielded by an unrequited embrace of acoustics. Varied rhythms and bold chord changes animate its otherwise stagnant beauty. After these quiet submersions, we come up into air, and into light, with the beautiful “Lakes,” which positively glows with quiet ecstasies. Again, Mays broadens the edges to new waterlines, cresting like a wave that never crashes upon its thematic shores. A two-part suite proves a complex call and response with the self before the 10-minute “Sea Song” reprises the harp guitar for its swan song. The music here is beyond aquatic, and could easily have seeded a Ketil Bjørnstad project. Eberhard Weber’s smooth bass introduces the morning’s regular activities with the first rays of sunrise in countless awakening eyes, before rolling out once again, drawn back into the depths like the tide that gives them life.

Metheny’s precision dives and soars, a most selfless bird, his fingers running together like the colors of the album’s title. His supporting crew is in tune at every moment (and one mustn’t fail to praise Dan Gottlieb’s drumming in this regard), protecting every melody with passionate detail. This is perfect music for travel, for the music travels itself. It’s a plane ride above a shimmering landscape, a hang-glide over open valleys, a dive into crystal waters—and yet, our feet never leave the ground. One might call it otherworldly, were it not so firmly rooted in the earth in all its glory. Pure magic from start to finish.

<< Collin Walcott: Grazing Dreams (ECM 1096)
>> Julian Priester and Marine Intrusion: Polarization (ECM 1098)

7 thoughts on “Pat Metheny: Watercolors (ECM 1097)

  1. I love this album. I’ve heard that Metheny doesn’t look upon it all that favorably, but it is part of the soundtrack of my years at graduate school and discovering the great jazz of ECM. In fact, the final cut – Sea Song – is the soundtrack to my evolving relationship to my wife of over 30 years – this song defines the joys of our falling in love. I will always have a very soft spot for the wonderful music on this release.

  2. I have listened to pat metheny for twenty years and Sea Song will be played at my funeral, I love surfing, the sea, sunsets ….and that song encapsulates all of it in one hit…a genius masterpiece …….

  3. I wrote my review about 5 years ago – and here, as the snow gently falls outside, some ginger and chocolate biscotti in the oven (what can I say – chemists love to bake) – I’ve got Watercolors playing on my Echo (Bravo to ECM for opening the streaming doors for the catalog). I listen to Watercolors anew, with fresh ears, and am blown away once more. I know from an interview some years ago Pat wasn’t utterly thrilled with this album, but…we can be. Crystal clear and clean, charting a musical adventure through whatever we imagine the music representing – certainly beauty, certainly (in these trying times in the US), an oasis, a place to find respite from the noise and conflict.

    1. It’s interesting that you mention gentle snowfall. Years ago, late at night I watched the snow fall outside from the comfort of the living room while ‘Watercolors’ was playing. It created such an amazing atmosphere and ever since then I made it a point of putting on that tune whenever snow was falling (which isn’t that often here in Basel despite being in Switzerland).

      ‘Watercolors’ is one of those Metheny albums that I find to be genius in parts but I still have trouble listening to it all the way through as the mood is a bit too etheral for my taste. But the title song and Yet I always come back to it and I definitely plan to get it on vinyl soon. BTW, ‘Bright Size Life’ ‘As Falls Witchita..’ and ‘Offramp’ are my fave Metheny records and those I can listen to in their entirety again and again.

  4. A funny one this, because I’m not so fond of Metheny’s usual band sound – it’s possibly a touch too ‘comfy’ for my own taste – but three of his solo / duo outings here (‘Icefire’, ‘Oasis’ and ‘Sea Song’) are among the most astonishingly beautiful pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I overuse the word ‘haunting’ to describe music, but these three tracks absolutely epitomise the adjective. A tricky album to get my head around!

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