Pat Metheny Group: s/t (ECM 1114)

 

Pat Metheny Group

Pat Metheny 6- and 12-string guitars
Lyle Mays piano, oberheim synthesizer, autoharp
Mark Egan bass
Dan Gottlieb drums
Recorded January 1978 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

There’s no mistaking a Pat Metheny album, and along with running mates Lyle Mays, Mark Egan, and Dan Gottlieb, the experience is unforgettable. From its inaugural moments, the group’s self-titled debut overflows with radiance. Ironically, this was one of the last PMG albums to cross my ears. During my first listen, the seamless combination of guitar and keyboard on “San Lorenzo” in its original guise was enough to show what I’d been missing, for clearly it had already kicked up the ECM ethos up a notch or two. This quiet revelation is further enhanced by the synth lead, gently skating its way across a surface that glitters with an artfully placed autoharp (which presages the sound of Metheny’s Pikasso guitar). Egan’s weighty but smooth bass works magic through the unmistakable lyricism of Mays’s pianism as both are swept favorably along by Gottlieb’s foamy breakers. And there is Metheny himself, whose own waves scorch the shorelines of our expectations with fragrant sunset. There is much to be found here in the way of timeless material, such as “Phase Dance,” another formative cell of the PMG canon. Buoyed by a seesawing bass, effortless soloing from Metheny and Mays scintillates over tight drumming. The wide open spaces of “Jaco,” named for the bassist and early collaborator Jaco Pastorius, veer our attention to a savvy and vigorous funk from which Metheny spins his web with both the grace of a ballerina and the raw emotive power of a blues guitarist. The following tune, “Aprilwind,” is as elegiac as the previous is jubilant. This solo guitar lozenge, wrapped in bittersweet introspection, proves a brief medicinal corrective to the positively acrobatic “April Joy.” A dream within a dream, it awakens our senses to a life renewed. But perhaps none is more uplifting than “Lone Jack,” in which an upbeat narrative flair and superb ground line make for a perfect sling with which to hurtle Metheny’s flames for one arousing final lap around the firmament.

Metheny’s sound has a bright and fluid posture that never fails to work its way into our hearts. No matter what mood we are in before pressing PLAY, we can always be sure of finishing with a smile. This is life-affirming music that stays true to itself no matter what the weather. One sometimes speaks of “desert island discs”—i.e., albums that are indispensable in our listening lives. This is beyond that, for once we hear it we have it with us always.

6 thoughts on “Pat Metheny Group: s/t (ECM 1114)

  1. Negli anni Settanta il jazz rischiò l’estinzione. Stretto in una morsa micidiale tra lo slancio eversivo del progressive, i venti del cambiamento fusion e l’arresto encefalico provocato da ‘disco’ e punk, il genere era ridotto a un vezzo snob per intellettuali da salotto in giacca di velluto, pipa ed “erre moscia”. In buona sostanza, del jazz non fregava più niente a nessuno. Quasi a nessuno. Recluso nella sua fortezza in Baviera, incurante del mondo esterno in putrefazione, Manfred Eicher teneva vivo lo spirito della musica afro-americana fondando la ECM e pubblicando dischi di bellezza assoluta come Conference Of The Birds, Deer Wan e Sargasso Sea. Verso la metà del decennio, in cerca di un nuovo chitarrista da affiancare ai veterani John Abercrombie, Ralph Towner e Terje Rypdal, il produttore chiese consiglio all’amico Gary Burton, docente al Berklee College ed egli stesso artista dell’etichetta, il quale raccomandò un giovanotto originario di Lee’s Summit (Missouri). Il resto è storia, ma proprio questo album consacrò definitivamente il talento di Pat Metheny. Solista ineguagliabile, estimatore dichiarato di Ornette Coleman, egli confessa il legame ideale col rock adulto degli Steely Dan e l’urlo amazzonico di Milton Nascimento, rivelando una sana indole anarcoide nascosta dietro le rassicuranti sembianze “casual”. Taciturno “alter ego” del leader, Lyle Mays elabora gli arrangiamenti col sapiente uso dei sintetizzatori e un tocco pianistico ispirato a Keith Jarrett. Costruita sulle risonanze armoniche della 12 corde acustica, San Lorenzo si dilata in una suite percorsa da sonorità policrome e baluginanti. Phase Dance fu scelta subito come sigla di apertura dei concerti, in funzione di autentica liturgia propiziatoria: buio in sala, Pat eseguiva l’arpeggio introduttivo su una Guild sorretta da un treppiede, per poi imbracciare la Gibson ES 175, indossata a tracolla, pronto a lanciarsi nell’assolo di rito. Chi c’era lo ricorderà per sempre. Sul saltellante, splendido tema di Jaco, il basso elettrico di Mark Egan, rigorosamente “fretless”, evoca il compianto destinatario della dedica (Pastorius aveva collaborato con Metheny su Bright Size Life). Con un prodigioso crescendo strumentale, Aprilwind ed April Joy suggeriscono immaginari paesaggi animati dal risveglio primaverile: da annoverare tra i massimi capolavori di Pat. I dinamici fraseggi di Lone Jack dispiegano la quintessenza linguistica dei due autori (Metheny/Mays): maestria tecnica, intuito melodico, gusto dell’impromptu. L’ABC del jazz. Ormai salvo. [P.S. – Il primo incontro tra Burton e Metheny è raccontato dallo stesso vibrafonista nelle note di copertina di Bright Size Life.]

  2. Unquestionably my favourite PMG recording – all musicians in peak form, especially Lyle Mays, whose sensitive comping and assured, lyrical soloing perfectly compliment Metheny’s flair. Special mention to Mark Egan for his superlative bass work in ‘Jaco’ – what a tone!

  3. The Beatles had their “White Album” just as they were coming apart. The PMG has their own white album, and captures just when perfection came together. This was my introduction to the PMG, at the suggestion of a dorm mate while in grad school. That was 1979 – here I am, in 2017, meaning it is 38 years since the vinyl spun on my turntable for the first time. Yet, though the surprise at such a unique sound is diminished, the joy at listening to the music is not. When my wife and I saw the PMG in early 1980 at the Ira Allen Chapel at U VT in Burlington, they opened with Cross the Heartland from American Garage. It was incredible…but not as incredible as watching Pat play the opening harmonics for San Lorenzo on a solid body electric on a stand, his hollow body slung onto his back. Lyle’s piano solo in the song too our breath away. Phase dance – this time with Pat plucking the opening notes on an acoustic with pickups on a stand – then switching once more to the hollow body slung onto his back for the lightning fast leads. Jaco was also featured in the concert. In fact…here is the set list for the concert we saw, back on February 13, 1980.

    Note that he incorporated an amazing version of Jarett’s “The Windup” from Belonging – as well as an early version of As Falls Witchita, complete with the most remarkable sounds from Lyle’s keyboards…sounded like a soundtrack to an epic war movie!

    (Cross The) Heartland (Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays)
    Airstream (Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays)
    April Joy (Pat Metheny)
    Unity Village (Pat Metheny)
    The Windup (Keith Jarrett)
    The Epic (Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays)
    As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls (Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays)
    Jaco (Pat Metheny)
    San Lorenzo (Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays)
    Phase Dance (Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays)
    American Garage (Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays)

    1. The set list you posted reads like a collection of my favourite Metheny pieces – very jealous! We don’t get to see Pat in Australia too often (if at all, in fact) and it is nice to read the reminiscences of someone who enjoys his music as much as I do, especially the ‘White’ album.

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