Pat Metheny: 80/81 (ECM 1180/81)

Pat Metheny

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.

<< Bengt Berger: Bitter Funeral Beer (ECM 1179)
>> Corea/Burton: In Concert, Zürich, October 28, 1979 (ECM 1182/83)

2 thoughts on “Pat Metheny: 80/81 (ECM 1180/81)

  1. I suspect that this is an often-overlooked, but really important chapter in Metheny’s recorded work. It wears very well with time, sounding just as fresh and adventurous today – made all the more poignant due to Brecker’s fairly recent death from cancer. When we saw the Metheny trio play in Durham a few years ago, they played Every Day I Thank You in tribute to Brecker.

    The first song – Two Folk Songs – perfectly demonstrates Metheny’s self-admitted love of strumming vigorously on sweeping, open chords – again, perhaps a hint of what was to come on his band album First Circle with the title cut. The Bat, I believe, was a love song for a woman in one of his early relationships.

    I wonder how many PMG adherents he lost when this came out (Pat dips into “real jazz”!)….and how many new fans he gained!

  2. Ormai anche i detrattori più ottusi gli riconoscono il merito – certo, condiviso con altri – di aver salvato il jazz da un destino crudele: la morte per oblio cui il genere era prossimo verso la fine degli anni ’70. Recuperando una combinazione strumentale allora caduta in desuetudine – il quartetto con la Gibson semiacustica a posto del piano – Pat Metheny si affranca in un colpo solo dall’algido suono ECM e dalla fortunata band di American Garage. I compagni di avventura stavolta sono veterani in cerca di nuovi stimoli: Jack DeJohnette, ex-davisiano (Bitches Brew; On The Corner; Live-Evil) che alla corte di Manfred Eicher diventerà il più acclamato batterista di fine millennio; Charlie Haden, storico bassista di Ornette Coleman, anomalo caso di provinciale statunitense in odore di comunismo; Michael Brecker, virtuoso del sax tenore e campione della fusion meno annacquata. Sostenuto da questi giganti, Metheny elabora un’inedita formula stilistica che, partendo dalla lezione di Coleman, ne amplia lo spettro espressivo con influenze country e un talento melodico degno di Wayne Shorter. 80/81 incoraggerà schiere di giovani ascoltatori a uscire dal recinto rock per esplorare le sconfinate praterie dell’improvvisazione. La presenza di Dewey Redman (80/81; Open; Pretty Scattered) – gagliardo avanguardista texano – e la magistrale interpretazione di un classico di Ornette (Turnaround) sottolineano l’affinità elettiva di Metheny con il padre del “free” (il legame verrà ribadito sui magnifici Rejoicing e Song X). Un paio di cartoline dal Missouri (Two Folk Songs; Goin’ Ahead), due temi di indescrivibile bellezza [Everyday (I Thank You); The Bat] e una serie di assoli straordinari fanno di questo doppio album il capolavoro del chitarrista. Brecker fu così entusiasta del risultato che, per il suo esordio da leader (Michael Brecker), riunì 4/5 della comitiva (se stesso, Metheny, Haden, DeJohnette). [P.S. – All’insegna della parsimonia più spinta la copertina disegnata da Barbara Wojirsch.]

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