Pat Metheny: Bright Size Life (ECM 1073)

Pat Metheny
Bright Size Life

Pat Metheny guitars
Jaco Pastorius bass
Bob Moses drums
Recorded December 1975, Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Engineer: Martin Wieland
Produced by Manfred Eicher

The tunes on Bright Size Life, Pat Metheny’s first studio album as frontman, tell a story that begins at the outskirts of Jim Hall, traverses the vast plains of the American Midwest, and ends smack dab in the middle of Ornette Coleman. From the moment fingers hit strings, we are launched into the luscious warmth that would come to characterize an ECM era. Flanked by the late Jaco Pastorius on bass and a cymbal-happy Bob Moses on drums, Metheny carries the brunt of the record’s melodic thrust. Positively overflowing with gorgeous circuitousness, organic inversions, and unwavering execution, Metheny and his sidemen make it sound as if it were harder not to produce such flawless synergy. With the obvious exception of his solo efforts, this is Metheny at his barest. And while his larger group projects tend to stray into more fusion-oriented territory, here we get a trio of musicians whose sensibilities, no less intertwined, arrange themselves into a more consistent rural flavor. There is something unmistakably outdoorsy about Bright Size Life. One can’t help but want to pop this music in the stereo during a long drive or cross-country trip, and maybe even have it in one’s ears during a hike (assuming that such digital trappings aren’t antithetical to the activity). An utter delicacy of phrasing and controlled abandon is what makes Metheny such a joy to listen to as he weaves his monochromatic web. Even during those moments in “Missouri Uncompromised” and “Omaha Celebration,” which swell into ecstatic fervor, Metheny exercises stylish restraint, as if pushing too far might break an already fine thread of articulation. Slower numbers like “Midwestern Night Dream” put Metheny in a more supportive mood, spinning a web of chords in equity with his fellow musicians. The bass adopts a more chorused presence, hopping over Metheny like a frog on lily pads. “Unquity Road,” along with the title track, foregrounds a composed doorway into an improvisatory wonderland, looking back regularly to its origins, as a child would its mother. Metheny closes out the set with “Round Trip/Broadway Blues,” an Ornette Coleman medley that seems to write its script as it goes along, until the vanishing point swallows and spits us out whole.

Bright Size Life is suitably recorded, with drums given the widest berth beneath the evenly spaced leads. Pastorius has plenty of opportunities to strut his stuff on center stage, and it is astounding to hear how he manages to thread every needle that Metheny fashions from the ether. At times, guitar and bass walk hand-in-hand, while at others one trails the other. Listening to this album is like tracing a map in sound. As followers, we may not know the next phase of our journey and can only trust that our guides will come through in the end. Metheny and company deliver above and beyond in this respect, with plenty of unexplored terrain left over to do it all over again.

Many consider the 1970s to be jazz’s deadest era. With records like this, ECM sufficiently laid that myth to rest. Listen and find out why.