Getting It Down Pat

Kenny Mathieson looks at the jazz career of virtuoso fusion guitarist Pat Metheny

I first heard Pat Metheny play live five years ago at a packed Hammersmith Odeon, a venue more accustomed to major rock acts than anything trading as jazz. It was billed on the marquee as The Triumphal Return of the Pat Methen y Group, and what struck me most that night (and again a couple of years later in Edinburgh) was not so much the smooth grace of the music, which was precisely as expected, but rather the way in which Metheny has carved out an audience which stretches well beyond the usual jazz crowd.

While the guitarist is one of the most gifted improvisers in contemporary jazz, he has generally chosen to set his music in commercially accessible frameworks. If anyone can bring musical credibility to worn-out fusion cliche’s in the 905, it seems likely to be his Group, with their trademark bright, Latin-inflected groove, rather repetitive melodic and harmonic patterns, and often diabolically complex time-signatures, which they sail through with astonishing ease.

‘The music we play in that band is based more on writing and concepts than on improvisation, and we also have a real strong percussion section, which is very important, maybe the most important element of all. The Group is very much an ensemble, and everyone in the band has an important role in the music. It has been stable, and that has let us develop together.‘

The guitarist’s return to Edinburgh in a stellar trio, though, will leave the high-tech toys and high-gloss grooves of the Group behind and revert to the roots of his early love for jazz. Metheny grew up in the small town of Lee’s Summit, Missouri, where the local dime store had a deal, ‘where you could buy three or four records for a dollar’. One of those which the twelve-year-old picked up happened to be by Ornette Coleman.

‘1 took it home and my instant reaction to it was that I loved it. It captured my imagination completely. At that point, I didn’t know that it was jazz, or what it was the nice thing about being a little kid is that you either like something or you don’t, without any preconceptions about what it is. From there, though, I started to become a jazz fan, mainly through my older brother, Mike, who is a trumpet player.’

Pat took up guitar the following year, and was already recognised as a virtuoso by his late teens.

He formed his own group in the mid-70$, and went on to record a series of successful albums for ECM, both in the fusion register favoured by the Group, and in more improvisational and to these cars, infinitely more interesting settings like the band with Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman on 80/81 (1981), or the trio with Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins on Rejoicing (1983). Having established himself as a major draw, he moved onto a major label deal with Geffen.

The first test for the new relationship, and I suspect for many of his fans, came when he delivered Song X ( 1986), a coruscating collaboration with Ornette Coleman. On the face of it, and despite that confessed early influence, they seem poles apart, but the album (which not only scooped several awards, but also sold extremely well, even if Metheny’s mother hated it!) brings out another side of the guitarist entirely, although he fails to see what all the fuss was about.

‘I don’t see it as being all that different from what I usually do, just a little bit more out. When I first listened to Ornette as a kid, it seemed to me that they were just playing the music they felt strongest


Pat Metheny: gm lpr

about, and playing it with incredible love and joy. It seemed very direct to me, and while most of the music I have played over the years is not stylistically close to it at all, that has always been the feeling I have tried to play with.’

The present trio, featuring English bass giant Dave Holland and American drum master Roy Haynes, recorded an excellent album for Geffen in 1989, Question And Answer, but this will be the first opportunity to hear them on a Scottish stage and is one not to be missed. It is Metheny’s most mainstream jazz setting, and as such falls outside the concerns explored in his orchestrally- conceived new project, Secret Story (Geffen).

‘l stashed away tunes over the years for this project, and I conceived the whole thing in this order from the beginning. It has an established structure underneath which holds it all together, and I see it as a kind of culmination of everything I’ve done up to this point with the exception of straight-ahead jazz’.

Pat Methen y, Dave Holland, Roy Haynes play at the Usher Hall on Wed 12.


The List 3] July— 13 August 1992-13