Friday, March 07, 2008

They've Still Got It Down Pat, In Smaller Form

When Pat Metheny plays his hollow-body guitar, it's as if all is right with the world. His sound is immediately recognizable, and it projects a warmth and optimism like no other (as I've said before, it's reflective of his Midwest upbringing--like a drive through the country on a perfect Sunday afternoon). I've tried to see Pat in concert whenever possible, so even yesterday's snowy weather (which, thankfully, abated in time to make the trip to downtown Ft. Worth) couldn't prevent me from seeing him for the first time in trio form at Bass Hall.

I realized while watching the concert that this particular trio (Pat on a variety of guitars, Christian McBride on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums) was the first that I'd seen where I also had recordings of each member as a leader (having recently acquired Sanchez's freshman effort in that area, 2007's Migration). And indeed, the group managed to keep a cohesive whole even as every man played like the leader that he is. The result was nothing short of masterful.

Though we arrived about ten minutes late due to the weather, we still caught every tune, as the evening opened with a solo recital from Pat, playing both the baritone guitar (featured on the 2003 effort One Quiet Night) and the unusual 42-stringed, three-necked Pikasso guitar, which was also used to segue into the trio's opener, "The Sound of Water," first recorded on Metheny's second collaboration with pianist Brad Mehldau. (Indeed, one very enjoyable aspect of the concert was the use of music that had not originally been done by the trio; in addition to the aforementioned Metheny/Mehldau tune, they also drew from Metheny's Ornette Coleman collaboration and an early Metheny Group number. While some of the larger-form Group compositions like "The First Circle" might not have translated to the trio setting, it was nice to see how much of the Metheny back-catalogue fit quite well into the smaller group.)

Metheny noted that this group had done things backwards--they toured for several years and then recorded an album. That recording, the recently-released Day Trip, was the source for quite a bit of the evening's material, including the album-opener "Son of Thirteen," the bluesy "Calvin's Keys" and the hyper-energetic "Let's Move." Even though it's a great record, it still pales in comparison to what these guys did with it live.

Throughout the evening, each man's contribution fully supported the trio-of-leaders idea mentioned earlier: Metheny's energetic and thoughtful lines, McBride's jaw-dropping technique (not to mention one of the finest sounds I've ever heard on the upright bass; he joins the late Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen as one of my two favorites in that area), and Sanchez holding it all together with taste, tight grooves and a fine mixture of chops and sensitivity. The main portion of the show concluded with another Day Trip number, "When We Were Free," which was spun out to epic proportions even before being taken to another universe by the addition of Metheny's trademark synthesizer guitar (I used to refer to the hollow-body sound as "Good Pat" and the synth guitar as "Evil Pat," but, as I noted in my review of The Way Up tour in '05, evil is still good in this case.) By the time the tune was over, the entire stage was bathed in a metallic green light that reinforced the otherworldly journey, as if the trio had been taken over by really cool aliens.

After a short break, the trio turned thoughtful for the first tune of the encore, "Is This America?" (an ode to Hurricane Katrina written while on tour in Fall '05), before closing out the evening in fine form with "Lone Jack" from the first PMG album.

As I discovered on my last visit to Bass Hall (in Spring '05 for Directions in Music), the sound of the hall lent itself well to a jazz concert, even with amplification. Parking was easy, and the Bass personnel were friendly and helpful to a fault. There were a lot of empty seats for a performance of this caliber--I'm sure the inclement weather of earlier in the day caused more than a few no-shows--but those of us who braved the elements were given a performance that was more than worth the trip. Having seen Pat seven times now, I can't wait until the next opportunity, no matter what configuration of musicians is in tow.

Reviewing the reviews: I was somewhat disappointed with the review in the Dallas Morning News' GuideLive section this morning, if only for referring to the concert as "an evening of good smooth jazz." Never mind the possibly oxymoronic nature of that phrase; what went on last night was far too adventurous for the average Koz or G-weasel fan. One of my friends said that Pat would have slapped the reviewer upon reading that, but I've met Pat before, and he's way too nice a guy; he'd probably just laugh. (The reviewer also suggested that "t would have been a little jazzier if there had been an occasional vocal performance." Umm--without current or former PMG members like Cuong Vu or Pedro Aznar on board, exactly who was he suggesting should sing? Pat may be many things, but I'm not sure that a vocalist is one of them.)

For a much better review, try this one, from the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram; he's got the idea of this group much more "down pat" than the Dallas guy.


Anonymous said...

I thought that was funny too... the DaMN reviewer wanting a vocal tune or two at a PMG concert. I wonder if he was disappointed in the Hannah Montana concert too because he would have liked a few songs that weren't immediately forgettable bubble-gum pop.

Kev said...

Well, if it were the actual PMG (the big group), that'd be one thing; they've done the Brazilian vocal thing in there since the As Falls Wichita days. But the trio is a whole 'nother animal; as i said above, which one of those three guys did he expect to sing?

And wouldn't a non-disposable song at a Hannah Montana concert be a feature, not a bug? ;-)

BTW, you missed a great concert in Stephenville last night with the Big Phat Band; I'm reviewing it here later today.