Pat Metheny TrioReviewed by Tyler Hersey
Pat Metheny Trio
with Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez
Michael Fowler Centre
With a career that spans 17 Grammy awards, three gold albums, and thirty years on tour, there are few places in the world which remain untouched by jazz guitar legend Pat Metheny. In his first-ever New Zealand concert, Metheny gave the ecstatic, sold out Michael Fowler Centre audience a broad overview of his commanding body of work. From the first song on his landmark 1976 debut Bright Size Life, to several gorgeous solo acoustic selections from 2003’s One Quiet Night, the guitarist displayed technical ability and compositional skill which are unequalled in the modern jazz era. For this festival tour (which includes Perth, Adelaide, and Singapore), Metheny is backed by ferocious Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez and renowned Philadelphia native Christian McBride, who is (and I do not say this lightly) undoubtedly the greatest acoustic and electric bassist in the world today.
Metheny opened the show with a graceful solo improvisation on baritone acoustic guitar, accompanying himself with a deep bass line played by hooking his left thumb around the neck of the guitar. Easing gently into ‘Last Train Home,’ from the album One Quiet Night, Metheny quickly displayed the compositional techniques which make his music so intriguing. With a shaggy head bent low over his guitar, he explored a stream of melodic tangents, connecting melodies high and low through exquisite use of unexpected chord changes and tension-building dissonance. Sitting somewhere between contemporary classical, modern jazz, and pastoral Americana, his first two selections were like a slow train rolling through the prairie landscape from which he hails.
To finish the solo segment, Metheny played 'Into the Dream' on his 42-string Pikasso guitar, which has several sets of harp and sympathetic strings stretched across three necks and a huge body. The sound of this instrument evoked both the Indian sitar and the African kora, with Metheny hammering a monotone accompaniment with his left hand on the traditional guitar neck, while his right hand plucked and raked shimmering peals of silver from the buzzing harp strings.
McBride and Sanchez emerged to enthusiastic applause for a wonderful run through 'So May It Secretly Begin' from 1990’s Still Life (Talking). Anchored by McBride’s deep bossa-nova bass line, a thick groove instantly enveloped the MFC, far surpassing the jazz-lite version found on the album. Indeed, this entire concert found Metheny eschewing the synthesized tones and straightforward rhythms of his 80s and 90s work for a pulsing, organic sound which seemed at once both modern and timeless.
From here, the group dropped into a fantastic version of the classic ‘Bright Size Life', in which Metheny and McBride traded agile leads over a lush, descending chord progression played entirely on the bass. Like Metheny, McBride utilizes the entire range of his instrument, providing total harmonic support as well as lightning-quick leads strung over Metheny’s tight guitar comping. For a trio, this group has a massive sound due to the thick, ambiguous nature of Metheny’s chords and the complex poly-rhythms played by Sanchez. On 'Bright Size Life' and the following as-yet untitled track, McBride and Metheny constantly completed each other’s phrases, re-harmonizing melodies at will and pushing each song into orbit.
After a quick cool-down with the sensitive brush-led ballad 'Always and Forever', the group launched into the centrepiece of the evening: an electrifying, psychedelic version of 'Question and Answer' from Metheny’s 1990 album of the same name. Beginning with a repeated 6/4 vamp not unlike 'My Favourite Things', Metheny built the song into a shower of hot sparks and spitfire leads, linking together unstoppable chromatic runs up and down the entire neck of his instrument. Sanchez’ relentless ride cymbal work propelled the song forward as it pushed at the walls of the concert hall, barely contained by the wood and steel above us. The song continued to build over the two chord vamp, driven by climbing leads and eruptions of drums, until Metheny pressed his one effects pedal of the evening, unleashing a torrid cascade of notes with soaring, liquid guitar tone. Upon conclusion, the audience exploded; only by starting the next song could Metheny quiet the crowd and resume the concert.
In this amazing set, every song was a world unto itself, an exploration of tones and moods which drew a different landscape around the listener. Ending the evening with two acoustic ballads and a rollicking blues encore, Metheny completed the journey on which we had been carried. And you know what? I’d like to take that ride again – wherever it may lead.