Pat Metheny Group: First Circle (ECM 1278)

Pat Metheny Group
First Circle

Pat Metheny guitars, synclavier guitar, guitar synthesizer
Lyle Mays trumpet, synthesizers, piano, organ, bells
Steve Rodby acoustic bass, bass guitar, drum
Pedro Aznar voice, guitar, percussion
Paul Wertico drums, percussion
Recorded February 15-19, 1984 at Power Station, New York
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Pat Metheny

By the release of First Circle, expectations for the Pat Metheny Group surely ran high, but with the appearance of new drummer Paul Wertico (replacing Danny Gottlieb) and Argentine percussionist Pedro Aznar (who took the place of Nana Vasconcelos, and whose vocals elevated the group to new levels) the results coalesced into something timeless. Don’t let the hokey “Forward March” fool you, however. Everything that follows is as solid as it gets. Were you to map out a flow chart of listeners’ favorites here, the largest field would likely be taken up by the effervescent title cut. And while indeed this vocalese-laden train of stunning pianism from Lyle Mays and Metheny’s equally locomotive acoustic is a glorious masterstroke if there ever was one, one can hardly refuse the wide vistas of “Yolanda, You Learn” or the heartrending brushwork of “If I Could,” one of the most utterly beautiful statements Metheny has ever recorded. “Tell It All” and “End Of The Game” hark back to Offramp, the latter especially in its soaring synth guitar lead. Both are spurred along by a gentle guiding hand, born of a palpable synergy and given traction in Wertico’s fantastic timekeeping. Although Metheny’s presence is vivid throughout, for me it is Mays who gilds this project with its distinguishing colors. And hats off to Aznar, whose singing in “Más Allá” (this album’s “What Game Shall We Play Today?”) adds another highlight. It’s fantastic to hear lyrics being added sparingly to the Metheny universe, if only because his melodic lines already describe so much without them. Aznar shines again in “Praise,” thereby ending things with a revelry more than worthy of its title. Listen to this already.

<< John Adams: Harmonium (ECM 1277 NS)
>> Egberto Gismonti/Nana Vasconcelos: Duas Vozes (ECM 1279)

One thought on “Pat Metheny Group: First Circle (ECM 1278)

  1. Of the big bolus of reviews you posted over the past few days (thanks so much….these are all essential reading), this release is one of the centerpieces of my collection. I was able to see the PMG frequently in concert in this period, and this music made for an intriguing, exciting event. The very odd opener “forward march” is a testament to PMG members’ memories of playing in school bands – in fact, the band marched from the back of the venue playing appropriate band instruments while Pat wailed on the synth guitar onstage. The First Circle is a song perhaps never bettered – and it contained some of what Pat seems to love – open chord strumming. A great review of a great release!

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