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A Fan's Notes: Metheny and Mehldau: A Dynamite Duo PDF Print E-mail
Wednesday, 09 May 2007 05:37
ImageBy Chip Lovitt
When I like a musician, I REALLY like a musician. Once I get hooked on a guitar player or singer-songwriter, it's like an addiction. I'll buy every CD they record, search out the obscure and rare recordings, and if they're playing within a 50- to 75-mile radius of my house, you can bet I've bought a ticket to the show.

Pat Metheny is one of those musicians I just can't get enough of. I've been a Metheny fan since I first heard him play with vibraphonist Gary Burton in 1975 when Pat was just 21. When I heard his first "solo" record, Bright Size Life, featuring Jaco Pastorius on bass, in 1975, I knew I'd found a new favorite. I didn't know that much about jazz guitar, but I sure knew what I liked.

And when the first Pat Metheny Group LP came out in 1978, it was all over. From the opening notes of "Phase Dance," which would serve as Pat's live opener for a decade, the LP marked a new sonic territory for guitar, one I would return to over and over. While Pat's previous ECM albums were somewhat spare, the first Pat Metheny Group LP had a soaring orchestral feel, thanks in large part to the compositional skills and keyboard talents of Lyle Mays.

I've bought every Pat Metheny commercial release since. Don't even ask me about live bootleg recordings. I know this guy in Argentina who has practically every live show Pat's ever played.

I'll even admit to signing up for a National Guitar Workshop Jazz Summit a few years ago just so I could see, meet, and maybe even learn a lick or two from Pat who was a guest artist there .

In terms of actually playing jazz guitar, I knew I was basically a beginner, but the Summit was right in my town in Connecticut so outmethenyandmehldau.jpg came the credit card. To have a chance to see a private Pat Metheny performance, chat about guitars with him, get an autograph, and get that close to greatness, was a privilege I was willing to pay for.

I was kidding myself, though, and I knew it. Maybe I thought being in the presence of greatness might rub off on me. You may say I'm a dreamer, but obviously from the many Pat fans at the Summit, I was not the only one. (I should mention I learned a lot from the classes and another great Pat, Pat Martino was also a guest artist.) I still consider the week a high point in my guitar life.

So, when Pat and pianist Brad Mehldau showed up at the Bardavon Opera House in Poughkeepsie, NY, this spring in support their Metheny Mehldau duo and quartet CDs, I bought a ticket faster than you can say "Ticketmaster convenience charge." It was only an 80 mile round trip, after all.

One thing that's cool about Pat Metheny is his quest to play with as many great musicians as he can. Over 30+ years, he's played with John Scofield, Charlie Haden, Dave Holland, Roy Haynes, Herbie Hancock, Jim Hall, Joni Mitchell, Chick Corea, Ornette Coleman, David Bowie, Nana Vasconselas, and countless others. That's not even counting all the great musicians who have passed through the Pat Metheny Group.

I've seen Pat with the PMG, in a trio setting, and even solo, but I think my favorite Metheny moments are when he teams up with a gifted keyboard or piano player.

Pat's latest collaborator is Brad Mehldau. A talented and versatile pianist, Mehldau has been compared to Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, but he really is his own man musically. His playing can be smooth, subtle, or swinging, and he can shift musical gears in a heartbeat. He's at home playing original compositions, jazz standards, free-form improvisation, be-boppy Bud Powell-like lines, and even jazzy covers of rock tunes. Add in some unusual time signatures, such as 5/4 and 7/4, and his ability to simultaneously play different melody lines with his right and left hands, and you've got a perfect foil and inspiration for Pat's unrivalled improvisational skills.

Put two terrific improvisers together and you will surely get an engaging-no, make that enthralling-evening of music.

The show began with Metheny and Mehldau offering up tunes from Metheny/Mehldau, the pair's duo LP. With Pat weaving mellow lead lines from his blonde Ibanez signature hollowbody around Mehldau's adventurous piano improvisations, the pair created a musical tapestry that was rich in its complexity, yet melodic enough for even non-jazz fans to appreciate. Pat then pulled out his baritone acoustic guitar and demonstrated his mastery with that instrument.

Later in the show, Pat demonstrated his prowess with his Linda Manzer-built Pikasso guitar. In case you've never heard of this unusual instrument, it's got four necks, two soundholes, 42 strings, including bass and drone strings and strings that ring like a harp. I could say no one plays the instrument like Metheny, but then again, I've never actually seen anyone else play this amazing instrument. Again Mehldau's piano provided perfect accompaniment, a spare but elegant musical backdrop that complemented the Pikasso's unique spectrum of sounds.

Then, joined by drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier, Metheny and Mehldau showcased the more upbeat and more swinging material from the Metheny Mehldau Quartet CD. Pat alternated between his Ibanez electric and his synthesizer guitar, which he used to simulate all kinds of sounds, including horns and strings. The music moved from quiet ballads to be-bop-influenced songs and soaring, free-flowing melodies not unlike the music of the Pat Metheny Group. There were moments, too, where the band shifted into lively Afro-Cuban-flavored rhythms and melodies.

A band is only as good as its rhythm section. In Ballard and Grenadier, Metheny and Mehldau had a great one.

In sports, they say the mark of truly great athletes, like Michael Jordan for example, is that they bring up the level of play of those around them. Pat Metheny's talents as songwriter, guitarist and musical adventurer do exactly that. The same can be said of Brad Mehldau as well.

It was a fine evening of music, challenging and adventurous-just like all the Pat Metheny shows I've seen. I've already gotten tickets for the Pat Metheny trio show when it comes to my neighborhood this October. I can't wait. Like I said, I'm proud to call myself a fan. No, make that a fanatic. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.

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