Pat Metheny: New Chautauqua (ECM 1131)

ECM 1131

Pat Metheny
New Chautauqua

Pat Metheny electric 6- and 12-string guitars, acoustic guitar, 15-string harp guitar, electric bass
Recorded August 1978 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Pat Metheny is one of those rare artists whose virtuosity is so fluid that it is no longer a necessary lens through which to view his music. Despite the 43 strings at his disposal for this fourth ECM outing, Metheny opts for pure expanse over density. While his first three projects found him fronting equally captivating support, here we see the Missouri native charting heretofore-unrecorded autobiographical depths that remain as resonant as they ever were.

New Chautauqua is bookended by two travel diaries. The title opener cracks like a morning egg onto a sizzling griddle. Here, as throughout, we find an entire desert compressed into a single grain of sand, needing only the microscope of Metheny’s meticulous syncopations to make our way through its staggering terrain. At the far end of the tunnel is new life lit by “Daybreak.” Additional guitars and bass ooze with optimism in this divided smile, holding fast to the idea of—but never the physical need for—a destination.

Along the way, we encounter a string of contemplative rest stops, each the trail marker of a limpid night. Every verse of “Country Poem” makes for a fitting prelude to the diptych of “Long-Ago Child/Fallen Star,” in which the 15-string harp guitar dialogues with an open slide in the lead. Such delicacy can only be drawn in negative space, using pigments of regret and joy in equal measure. A heavy pause inhales deeply before expelling its acoustic splendor, hovering over arpeggiated flowers like a silent and thoughtful bee whose days are numbered, but whose memory lives on through a psychological pollen of sorts that cross-fertilizes vaster, less visible pastures. “Hermitage” might as well be the album’s title, so thoughtful are its steps, each a point along a circle of plot and resolution. Yet the needle in the New Chautauqua haystack is “Sueño Con Mexico.” Threaded by an acoustic ostinato, around which Metheny gilds ornamental embraces, its unyielding grace never fails to unhinge. It has the entire world’s natural cycles in its purview, turning as might an eddy in an April stream.

Metheny’s is a highly refined world that is as loose as it is exacting, written in the kind of polished script that can only come from a musical path forged through love of communication. Among decades of varied output, this stands as one of his most vivid sonic postcards for the yet-to-be.

<< Azimuth: The Touchstone (ECM 1130)
>> Walcott/Cherry/Vasconcelos: CODONA (ECM 1132)

5 thoughts on “Pat Metheny: New Chautauqua (ECM 1131)

    1. One of my main goals with this blog is to review every ECM album, thereby giving me the opportunity to explore much of the back catalog that I have missed out on. As of late, I am trying to go chronologically through the 70s and 80s releases, many of which I am only now exploring for the first time.

  1. I regularly listen to this one still after more than 30 year … of course now I have it on CD as well as vinyl and it has been a mainstay of my MP3 collection since ~98 when I put it on a PDA!

    I was hoping that there was some masterful re-release at work ready to separate me from my money once again … but any excuse to revisit it is fine by me 🙂

  2. Actually neat to come upon this. In 1978 I was 19 years old and not listening to new style jazz much….just getting into Bill Evans, Kenny Burrell, George Benson. I remember hearing some of the ECM releases back then but the only ones that grabbed me were from Ralph Towner and John Abercrombie. And yes, I am a guitar guy. Eventually came around to Pat Metheny years later (1983 to be precise when I heard As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls) and started to get into Metheny. Over the years, I have heard lots of other releases from him some of which I love and bought and others which at least initially eluded me. I always found him to be a great technician but some of it was too new agey for me, others maybe too strange, others I loved….somehow missed this one. SO, cool. Just gong to have to dig into the ECM catalog now at 63 and in quarantine.

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