The Pat Metheny you don’t expect: free-jazz
“Melody still has a place here, which suggests that Metheny’s interest in the Original Coleman legacy may be carrying forward in his own work more intently than it is in the composer’s. Either way, on many of the more raving episodes here, both men sound exulatant with the possibilities. Hightly recommended.”
The Penguin Guide To Jazz on cd, third edition, Penguin Books 1986, pag. 899
I owe a debt of gratitude to Pat Metheny: I approached free jazz thanks to his music. I was 20 years old, I had already bought several Metheny’s records, including 80/81 and Rejocing that I liked very much and that they had already opened for traditional jazz, when thanks to a friend, who already had a culture and an open mind wider than mine, I listened to Song X. I remember that I didn’t understand anything, but nothing at all, I still remember, after almost thirty years, the sense of disorientation after that listening: how was it possible? And the melodic Metheny I knew? And all that rhythmic whirlwind? And that sax played so energetic and shrill? In short, I was really surprised, but above all the doubts remained: if a professional like Metheny had wanted that record some valid reason there had to be … especially if then the specialized magazines talked about Song X so well. So I began to listen to other jazz, to understand who was Ornette Coleman and above all to try to decipher the music that on one hand fascinated me for its energy and for its approach so direct and at the same time it left me perplexed for his (apparent) absence of a logical structure, or rather of those structures to which I had become accustomed to listening to rock, folk, be-bop and jazz-rock.
I found Song X six years later in a secondhand shop. The cd had been put in a corner, sold for an excellent price. OK I told myself, buy it and let’s listen to it again, how shall it sound now? I trust you, Pat. And I did well. The record that played at my house, at the age of 26, was not the same one I had heard only six years before. I liked it, and so much! I had learned a great lesson: music does not change, we change. Song X was always Song X and Metheny was always Metheny, I was the one who had matured and changed. It was a great satisfaction.
More time passed, I listened to other records, so many records and now I feel the need to frame this record in a wider context. Often the records … shall we say the Metheny’s “strange” records, the discs produced outside the Pat Metheny Group and his “normally” melodic projects are considered as outsiders, mosaic tessera untied from the more general picture of his mainstream production, in some cases, as for “Zero Tollerance for Silence” even of bad jokes. I don’t think so. I think they are evolutionary paths of a guitarist, a tireless artist, an excellent professional always looking for new ideas, new possibilities that help him overcome creative blocks and that certain stasis that takes over from the artists who feel satisfied with the success obtained and who prefer to lazily repeat the same cliches. I believe that Song X is one of these paths and that Metheny has arrived to it through a series of previous record works that have created the basis for which Song X could be born and be published. What you read here is my personal version of the creation of this wonderful and much-loved album. But to understand how Song X was born we have to start long before its publication date, even before the Pat Metheny Group, we have to go back to June 16, 1974, when Metheny enters the Blue Rock Studio in New York to record what I believe is his first record in the company of three jazz legends: the pianist Paul Bley, the drummer Bruce Ditmas and his friend, the genius of the fretless bass, Jaco Pastorius. Pat Metheny was 19 years old and he was introduced to Bley by Pastorius. Metheny will play in this quartet for only two months, trying to learn as much as possible from Bley and his associates, and then he continued his careers in the Gary Burton group. The album is titled “Jaco”, produced by the Bley record company, Improvising Artist Inc. (http://www.improvart.com/), and there is an edition available at cheap prices in CD produced by the Jazz Door, previously it had been reprinted by the Japanese DIW.
The Metheny who plays on this record is a talented young man, who already demonstrates his artistic maturity and a desire for exploration that, as we shall see, will remain on him. He is not yet the Pat Metheny that we know well but his foundations are there and above all, in this album he dares a lot: “Jaco” is an opportunity to deepen for him, all the four misicians play with much enthusiasm and generosity and it represents an important stage in evolution of his style.
The second step towards Song X, Metheny did in May 1980. The guitarist has long entered the ECM team and, indeed, has already achieved his first big sales success: “American Garage”. But something is missing. From May 26 to 29 Metheny is in Oslo, at the Talent Studio, to record “80/81”.
A star formation accompanies him: Jack DeJohnette on drums, Michael Brecker on tenor sax and two Ornette Coleman’s devoted disciples: Charlie Haden on double bass and Dewey Redman on tenor sax. It’s one of the Metheny’s records I love most. There is also a version of Coleman’s “Turnaround”. Any guitarist must listen to the impressive work of Metheny on the rhythmic guitar of “Two Folk Songs”, an active presence, marked, almost in counterpoint with the double bass and drums and the melodic lines, very simple, played by the great Michael Brecker.
Metheny will record again with Charlie Haden on November 29 and 30, 1983 at the Studio Power Station in New York to record Rejoicing, the album that opened me the door to guitarists like Barney Kassel, Jim Hall and especially Wes Montgomery. The formula used is the trio where the drummer is another member of Ornette Coleman’s group, Billy Higgins.
The judgment of Methney on this record is very severe, I am not of this opinion and I find wonderful the work done on “Lonely Woman” by Horace Silver and on “Rejoicing” by Ornette Coleman who give the title to the album. This disc will also mark the beginning of discontent with Manfred Eicher, the owner of the ECM, which will result with Metheny leaving the German record company and entry into the Geffen that will give him greater autonomy. Song X was born in fact for Geffen. The main architect of this project is Charlie Haden who put Methney and Coleman in contact and created the basis for this meeting. The rehearsals started in New York in early December 1985, the two leaders begin to compose and divide the tasks: Metheny taked care of the harmonic part, Coleman of the melodica. On December 12th the band, composed by Jack DeJonette and Denardo Coleman on drums and Charlie Haden, is at the Power Station in New York. In the course of recording, Methney will use three guitars: the Synclavier guitar, the Roland GR 300 and the acoustic guitar built by the Canadian luthier Linda Mazer, the Pikasso guitar. In two days, December 13th and 14th, the record is made, with incredible energy, 48 minutes for a total of 8 tracks with high emotional density. The album come out on April 7, 1986 and is an incredible success both critics and sales, with comments almost always positive, being elected as the jazz album of the year by the magazine Down Beat. Even the short tour of 14 concerts that the band makes in the United States was a great success.
But the version that I recommend you buy, and listen to, is not the one I bought when I was 26: I sold it in 2005 to make way for the reissue that celebrated the twentieth anniversary, which contains six other tracks that had been left out of the previous edition More than thirty years passed from its release, but this record does not seem to lose nothing of the initial push and energy, it remains a masterpiece and one of the best works of Metheny and one of his most courageous. A record that needs to be re-evaluated and studied.