Pat Metheny guitar
Charlie Haden bass
Jack DeJohnette drums
Dewey Redman tenor saxophone
Michael Brecker tenor saxophone
Recorded May 26-29, 1980 at Talent Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
With 80/81, Pat Metheny took one step closer to his dream of working with The Prophet of Freedom (a dream he finally achieved with 1985’s Song X), and what better company than Coleman alumni Charlie Haden and Dewey Redman, both fresh off the boat of Keith Jarrett’s newly defunct American Quartet and both welcome additions to the extended Metheny family. Along with the technical mastery of reedman Mike Brecker and drummer Jack DeJohnette, plus a dash of post-bop spice, the result was this still-fresh sonic concoction. The atmospheres of the opening “Two Folk Songs” invite us with that expansive pastoralism so characteristic of Metheny. This makes Brecker’s highly trained yet raw stylings all the more marked, bringing as they do a sense of presence that explodes into a million pieces. Metheny’s benign sound catches at the threshold of perfection with every turn of phrase, allowing Brecker fiery bursts of abandon. DeJohnette throws on a log or two with his rocketing solo, while Haden wipes the slate clean with shadings of his own. Metheny shows off his unparalleled command of two-string harmonies, fading on a lightly skipping snare. This feeling of perpetual motion lingers throughout the title track. Content in sharing the revelry, Metheny relays to Redman who, though he may not fly as high, emits no less intensity in his groove. “The Bat” gives us a minor-keyed shadow of “I’ll be Home for Christmas” before diving headfirst into Coleman’s “Turnaround.” This trio setting boasts inventive melodies and a plunking solo from Haden. “Open” is, suitably enough, the freest track on the album, emboldened by trade-offs between Redman and Brecker, while “Pretty Scattered” dances more lithely with John Abercrombie-like exuberance. A ringing high from Metheny laser-etches this track into our memory. Balladry abounds in “Every Day (I Thank You),” one of his most gorgeous ever committed to disc. This is music that grins even as we grin, and shines through the darkest cloud of a Midwestern storm. Metheny ends alone with “Goin’ Ahead.” This breath-catching piece works its farewell into our hearts with every suspended note, effortlessly walking the beaten path of all those souls who have traveled before, so that those yet to be born might know where they come from, and to where they might return.
Like much of what Metheny produces, 80/81 is wide open in two ways. First in its far-reaching vision, and second it its willingness to embrace the listener. Like a dolly zoom, he enacts an illusion of simultaneous recession and approach, lit like a fuse that leads not to an explosion, but to more fuse.