What can we say about Pat Metheny that has not already been written, considered and… listen to? Pat Metheny has been able to build over the years an excellent career and also one of the most recognizable guitar sounds, even for non-connoisseurs. The less knowledgeables should remember him especially for the records made with the Pat Metheny Group where he fused in a perfect, balanced and captivating fusion, jazz, Brazilian bossa nova and melodic music without ever giving up creativity and quality. But Metheny also has an “obscure” side. Works such as Electric Counterpoint by Steve Reich, the free jazz of Song X made with Ornette Coleman in 1985, the obsessive noise of Zero Tollerance for Silence and The Sign of the Four with Derek Bailey show how Metheny is also a person who knows how to intelligently look for new ways and routes outside the municipality and how he is always strongly tempted by collaborations (see the works with Charlie Haden, John Scotfield, Nana Vasconcelos). In this article I investigate three records of his long and successful discography, three records that have come out of the schemes in which usually a jazz guitarist is confined and that demonstrate the presence of a real professional, always ready to get involved with side projects, not less interesting than the most famous routes on which his career has stood for years.
Steve Reich Different Trains / Electric Counterpoint (1989, Nonesuch Records 79176)
Steve Reich is an American musician and composer, one of the great fathers of minimalism, and one of the first to realize the great potential of the electric guitar for contemporary music. In fact, this album contains “the original” of one of the most loved and performed piece ever, I’m talking about Electric Counterpoint, a composition commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival for Pat Metheny’s guitar. It’s an interesting serial/minimalist overlapping work of 11 guitars (and 2 basses), developed in the three movements “Fast”, “Slow”, and “Fast” lasting about 15 minutes. This is the third of a series of works (Vermont Counterpoint, 1982, and New York Counterpoint, 1985) that all foresee a soloist playing against a series of tapes pre-recorded by the musician himself. Reich himself says in the record “I would like to thank Pat Metheny for showing me how to improve the piece”.
Pat responds remotely in an interview of January 6, 1989, reported in the book by Luigi Viva “Pat Metheny, a guitar beyond the sky” .. it was a fantastic experience. Steve is one of the greatest American composers of this century … It was a little strange to have to explain the range of the instrument, as he was not very familiar with the electric guitar. However we have become good friends and the balance of this collaboration is very positive … “. The result is a fascinating and complex song where the guitars hide within the complex contrapuntal plot, generating a hypnotic and liberating sound.
Different Trains, recorded by Kronos Quartet, marks the return of Reich to experiments with recorded voice (but also noises, sirens, etc.) and tape, which form the axis around which the differently rhythmic figures of the arches rotate. The piece is dedicated to Nazi trains that brought Jews to concentration camps and adopts completely unusual techniques for him: composed for string quartet and tape, the first imitate the melody of the speech and the second emits “found” sounds of trains and sirens, as well as “treated” fragments of speeches. Essential.
Pat Metheny Zero Tollerance for silence (1994 Geffen GED 24626)
“Has a major commercial artist ever conducted such a schizophrenic carrer?” The Penguin Guide to Jazz on cd
Recorded in just four hours at the Power Station on December 16, 1992, this record of pure white noise and radical improvisation is a real challenge for all Pat Metheny Group fans. Light years away from certain sugary and long-winded songs and from the kilometer solos that the guitarist of the Missuri had accustomed us before, here Metheny seems to condense without any melodic concession the acquaintances and experiences gained with Ornette Coleman and Steve Reich, looking for a chaotic and at the same time powerful and evocative sound .
“… I am absolutely tired of the tyranny of time, I spent more than thirty-five years with bassists and drummers. I tried to get a pure sound without any tyranny. … “Pat Metheny
When he released this album he was greeted by criticisms that ranged from fierce criticism to embarrassed stammering: who could ever imagine such a radical and sudden inversion? Until then, Metheny had been for most of the audience an almost easy-listening guitarist, able to brighten up his sunny melodies with his summer afternoons. Yet the symptoms were in the air, Rejoicing and the Song X of a few years before were not easy records and, even if they were critically acclaimed by jazz critics, they had not been digested by most of his fans.
But this is a fist on the stomach launched at a fierce distortion, no concession, no negotiation, no diplomacy, no compromise. A strong mark of thought, perhaps a rudeness to the record company, a sign of artistic freedom, a perfect cure to the daily routine, Zero Tollerance for Silence is all this and beyond: a thin red border line. Honor to Metheny for knowing how to cross it.
“… a new milestone in electric guitar music… searing, soaring, twisted chords of action guitar/thought process. An incendiary work by an unpredictable master, a challenge to the challengers… ” Thurstone Moore
Tap Book of Angels Vol. 20 by Pat Metheny and John Zorn, Tzadik, 2013
I confess to having waited for this record with a certain impatience, tickled as I was from the idea of a tight collabation between two of my favorite musicians in absolute. And I must say I was rewarded with patience, but let’s try to understand a little more about the record we’re talking about. Apparently, I repeat apparently, John Zorn and Pat Metheny would not seem to have anything in common and therefore, on the paper, this collaboration would seem impossible.
In reality it’s not like that. John Zorn has for many years been considered the “American contemporary maverick”: composer, improviser, musician, publisher, entrepreneur able to realize for over 60 years a simply monumental career not only in quantitative terms (compositions, discography, books made) but above all in terms of quality, commitment, tenacity, creativity and commercial independence. Pat Metheny is not far behind, almost the same age as Zorn was able to build, as we said, not only an excellent career but also one of the most recognizable and lucky guitar sound. The news then that two people so they kept an eye on for several years should not particularly astonish, just as they should not astonish each other’s testimony of esteem, say that perhaps the fire was hatching under the ashes and expected the opportunity and the moment propitious. So here we are at this album, the twentieth volume of the Book of Angels series, which are part of the second Masada songbook, over three hundred songs composed by Zorn and intended to be interpreted by other musicians. The songs of Zorn must have exercised the right call on Pat Metheny and so here is this Tap for six tracks with a clear klezmer imprint. Metheny and Zorn certainly put on the fire a lot of meat, perhaps too much. Metheny breaks loose between his guitars, the orchestrion (one of his many obsessions) and various keyboards, as if he wanted to create a sequel to that Secret Story released more than twenty years ago. Zorn creates music for him where he can leave free space to the melodic touch of Pat, while maintaining his composer’s imprint. For me, listening to them from … now more than 30 years is a general run-up to pick up references, quotations, echoes of two exceptional careers. Pat puts it all: melodic, distorted sounds make you feel what kind of guitarist he is and doesn’t give up in making the full weight of his experience and his career and Zorn certainly must not have pulled back. Can we then cry out to the miracle? No, I would say no, this record doesn’t add anything new to what we already knew about Zorn and Metheny, who was expecting something epochal, will certainly be disappointed. Those who expected a good record will be happy. The two guys do not betray and Tap is a good record. I definitely recommend the purchase, certainly.
When it was released I was hoping that this record was not an isolated case. I sincerely hoped that the two would continue to attend and put something really innovative in the pipeline, I wanted something like Spy versus Spy, The Big Countdown, rather than Song X, Zero Tollerance for Silence .. in short, something really new and I thought that the two could do it. I’m still looking for, I have patience and I have not lost all hope.
I add only the compliments to Antonio Sanchez, who has been a trusted drummer for Pat for years, as always confirming his skill by cleverly untangling himself with precision and cleanliness of execution between the Zorn’s polirithmics.