Sunday, September 28, 2008
  My Desert Island Discs 6
My last two choices, Eberhard Weber on ECM and Tribute to Soft Machine, have lead me to re-evaluate Pat Metheny. This has meant listening to nigh on twenty albums in the past week.

I was at what I think was his first concert in London in, probably, 1981. With a good friend and neighbour, I'd begun to explore the ECM label. Drummer John Marshall, former Soft Machine member and currently in Soft Machine Legacy, as well as Soft Machine founder member and its first drummer, but now the independent and idiosyncratic singer, Robert Wyatt, have popped up as group members or guests on ECM recordings. John, for example, was in Eberhard Weber's group Colours.

It was inevitable that Pat Metheny would pop up on my musical radar. He had recorded alongside Eberhard Weber in the Gary Burton Quintet in 1974 (Ring - ECM 1051) when he was 20; his first album a month previously was in the Paul Bley Quartet with Jaco Pastorous on bass. Jaco played on Metheny's first album as leader, Bright Size Life (ECM 1073), shortly before he joined Weather Report. A year later, in 1977, Metheny recorded what could be thought of as his first Group album, Watercolors (ECM 1097) with Lyle Mays on keyboards, as he has been ever since, Eberhard Weber on bass and Danny Gottlieb on drums.

That first gig, Pete and I were up in the gods of the Hammersmith Odeon. The group we saw that evening had either Mark Egan or his replacement, Steve Rodby, on bass in place of Weber. Like Mays, Rodby continues to work with Metheny.

I doubt that many in the packed audience had been at his first British gig, at the Bracknell Jazz Festival the year before. We didn't know what to expect and we got sublime, saudade spine tingling melodies played acoustically, hear the fingers slide up the strings, loud synthesised orgasmic group singalongs, and Ornette Coleman free-formish what was that?

Being British, we applauded politely after each piece, some of which we recognised. None of us waved cigarette lighters (which would now be camera-phones) in the air to say "Look at me, I'm at a Pat Metheny gig", something which Americans posing as audiences are prone to do.

When the group finished playing some of the tightest ensemble playing we had ever been privileged to witness, there was a silent pause, then ~ whoosh - as one ~ the entire audience stood and roared for more with that rhythmic footstomping, hand clapping, whistling and yelling which signifies that we were at a gig that would be forever enshrined in our memories.

The group came back and stood at the front of the stage looked around, looked up, their arms around each others' shoulders and you could almost hear their mutual thought ~ "What the f**k have we done here?" ~ as they realised that we had given them the ultimate accolade. I still get goosebumps recalling that magic moment.

They played another half an hour and seemed to surpass themselves. They knew we could take it.

The lovefest was, and has remained a continual euphoric gobsmack. On October 22nd 1995, the Pat Metheny Group played here in Jakarta. The gig was poorly advertised and I estimate that the 2,000 seater hall had only 500 of us; we counted 3 expats, but I do know that the cream of Indonesia's jazz scene were in attendance, folk like Indra Lesmana and members of Simak Dialog. Old softie that I am, tears of joy streamed down my face, maybe because I knew that we'd be very lucky to see him again here.

If you listen (free) to the track Third Wind from the live album The Road To You (rec. 1991), you can get a sense of euphoria too. When the group finishes playing, you can hear the audience pick up the refrain and continue to sing for nigh on a minute. Spine tingling stuff.

I can't find the URL of the web page I copied the following from, but not only does Metheny encapsulate everything I deem important in music, but he has distilled the essentials of his music, something I've probably failed to do above.

"The methods that are used to quantify music - jazz, rock, pop, black, white, American, folk, European, avant-garde, etc. - have all dismally failed as terms that have any value whatsoever for me as a listener or especially as a player. To me, about the best you could say about those tags as useful mechanisms of critical discussion is that they are superfluous. I basically love music and see it - like humanity itself - as one big thing.

I feel very happy that I have the capacity to get goose bumps listening to just about anyone playing just about anything if they are doing it at their very best. When they are illuminating something unique and important and special about that particular musical endeavor at that particular moment in their particular lives as musicians, and they would suffer greatly unless they could make that moment come alive in that particular way - that is when I dig it.

That quality can be found in the most unlikely places. And by the same token, that quality is often lacking in the places where one would most expect it to be. That quality is also elusive and mysterious, and one can rarely predict anything about it."

It is the unexpected in music that I too continue to listen out for. Metheny has played with an "overall creative pantheon of the music industry", whatever that's supposed to mean. Among them: Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, Mike Brecker, Ornette Coleman, Jack Dejohnette, Donald Fagan, Bill Frisell, Charlie Haden, Herbie Hancock, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins, Dave Holland, Joni Mitchell, Joshua Redman, Sonny Rollins, John Scofield, Nana Vasconcelos, Marc Johnson.

As of 2002, the "Pat Metheny Songbook" contained 167 original scores and, as much as I like the majority of the Pat Metheny catalogue, if I had to choose just the one album, I would have to take The Road To You. It's not my favourite - and I'm not even sure that I have one - but for recapturing the magic of the rare moments when musicians and audiences are as one, I know of nothing better.




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