Pat Metheny Group: Travels (ECM 1252/53)

Pat Metheny Group

Pat Metheny guitars
Lyle Mays piano, synthesizers, organ, autoharp, synclavier
Steve Rodby basses
Dan Gottlieb drums
Nana Vasconcelos percussion, voice, berimbau
Recorded July, October, and November 1982
Engineer: Randy Ezratty
Produced by Pat Metheny and Manfred Eicher

If you’ve ever desired a Pat Metheny Group greatest hits album, then Travels is for you. Compiled from the group’s touring activities in 1982, this double set is a must-have. From the glittering lotus of melody that is “San Lorenzo” to the even more effusive “Phase Dance,” the requisite classics are all here. We also get a curtailed, though no less epic, version of “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls,” which here draws out like a long cinematic fade and throws the windows open wide to the band’s boggling sonic purview. And one can hardly help but swoon from the dizzying heights reached by this live version of “Are You Going With Me?” Here the studio version seems but a memory on the path to glory, and finds exuberant life in what is perhaps Metheny’s best solo on record. An absolute affirmation.

Yet the album’s true value comes in the handful of songs exclusive to it. Through these we encounter softer sides of the PMG, each burnished like a different shade of leather. “The Fields, The Sky” is an outstanding place to start. Vasconcelos’s unmistakable berimbau threads a supremely melodious backdrop, while Metheny is at once distant and nearby, winding a slow and organic retrograde around the fiery center within. Vasconcelos is also the voice of “Goodbye,” a forlorn piece of sonic stationery across which Metheny inscribes a most heartbreaking letter toward a ripple of an ending. This pairs nicely with the title track, a laid-back photograph of Americana that is like a rocking chair on the back porch: lulling, and affording an unobstructed vista. Similar strains await us in “Farmer’s Trust,” a slow plunge into an ocean of undriven roads gilded by the whispering of baby birds and the rustling of the leaves that hide them, and in the smoothly paved blacktops of the synth-driven “Extradition” and “Song for Bilbao.” Each of these creeps along like wispy clouds over badlands, spun by keyboardist Lyle Mays into sunset. But it isn’t all drawl, as drummer Dan Gottlieb proves in the invigorating “Straight On Red,” throughout which he provides the perfect springboard for the masterful dialogues of Metheny and Mays.

Travels are what the PMG are all about, and the selfsame album shows us the collective at its finest hour. Those hearing the PMG for the first time will want to start with the studio sessions—and especially Offramp—from which Travels was in part drawn. That way, one can appreciate the enthusiasm of the crowds, and get at least a taste of what it must have felt like to be there among them. With a depth and cleanliness of sound that no band can match, the PMG were a force to be reckoned with, but also one so welcoming that reckoning need never have applied. Theirs is a space where nature and nurture shared the same pair of lungs.

Should posterity ever look back on our age as one of overconsumption, warmongering, and greed, one listen to Travels will prove to them that in our hearts we continued to cherish all that is good and true.

<< Dino Saluzzi: Kultrum (ECM 1251)
>> John Surman: Such Winters of Memory (ECM 1254)

5 thoughts on “Pat Metheny Group: Travels (ECM 1252/53)

  1. I just want to make clear that the references to Synclavier for tunes like “Extradition” is really the Roland GR300 guitar synthesizer which Pat uses til this day.

    1. Thank you so much for the clarification. I’ve just changed the language to “synth” to avoid confusion. I was wondering whether his effects arsenal was broader than I’d imagined. If you see any other such errors, don’t hesitate to let me know.

  2. I am spending time each day reading your wonderful reviews and putting my two cents worth in. As someone fortunate to have seen the PMG live nearly 20 times through the years, Travels is really effective documentation of the thrill of Pat’s long, live inspiring events – there really isn’t (wasn’t? – will the PMG ever reform? Did they have anything left to say after the extraordinary The Way Up?) substitute for being in the audience of a PMG concert. We even got to sit in the very front row, right in front of Pat himself, in a early 1980s gig at Hopkins Auditorium on the Dartmouth College campus in Hanover NH. With the ECM catalog now streaming and Travels bursting through my Amazon Echo, I have a smile on my face as I type this note during a very favorite track, San Lorenzo.

  3. I love this album and actually saw the PMG play here in Switzerland around that time. Although it was already with Paul Wertico on drums while Dan Gottlieb still was in the band for ‘Travels’. While I love the performances and song selection of ‘Travels’, I was never so enamoured with the sonics. To my ears, the ‘ECM sound’ was applied in post-production, meaning that the sound is reverby and ethereal which IMO goes against the immediate nature of a ‘jazz’ live record.

    For comparison, check out ‘Offramp Live at the Mesa Centennial Hall’ which was recorded on the the same tour. It’s not an official release though it can be found on Spotify. (I assume that royalties are being paid and it hasn’t beern taken because of that but that is guesswork.) The sound is very direct and I think it is much more exciting because of it as compared to treated ‘Travels’.

    Anyway, this was my fave incarnation of the PMG with Dan Gottlieb and Paul Rodby in the rhythm section. I think Gottlieb was the perfect drummer for Metheny and the later PMG albums with Paul Wertico tended to me too rigid and produced for ,e.

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