Quote of the month: “Beauty without reasons, and without the anxiety over the lack of reasons: that may be what life was like before we started making it up. Sometimes, when I look at [Merce] Cunningham’s stage, I think I’m seeing the world on the seventh day, with everything new and just itself — before the snake, and the tears, and the explanations.” — Joan Acocella, The New Yorker, Nov. 3, 2003
It might be that Pat Metheny’s most enduring historical contribution is on the acoustic guitar. In fact, One Quiet Night, his 2003 solo baritone guitar release, may be remembered as one of the most important statements of his career. Quite early on, Metheny displayed a genius for bringing jazz complexity to the specific vernacular of folk guitar. His new baritone guitar music, which he showcased for the first half-hour of his Beacon Theater concert, reveals just how far and how well his acoustic concept has traveled. The instrument sounded magnificent; its bass strings caused the entire auditorium to resonate. His gift was most apparent on the Norah Jones (Jesse Harris) cover “Don’t Know Why,” to which he added dense chromatic motion and close voicings, finally modulating from C to A major. Two bars of harmonic stasis in the bridge seemed to give Metheny pause on the recording; in the live setting he filled in these bars expertly, with compact walking chords down the neck. Switching to nylon-string, Metheny then offered a medley of past goodies such as “Minuano,” “September Fifteenth,” “Midwestern Night’s Dream,” and even the David Bowie collaboration “This Is Not America.” A brief “Into the Dream” on Pikasso 42-string guitar served as the gateway to the trio portion of the evening.
The segue was beautifully done: a final glissando and suddenly Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez were playing the opening riff of “So May It Secretly Begin.” The set went on to include “What Do You Want,” “Soul Cowboy,” and the obligatory “Question and Answer,” but also a batch of promising new tunes with only numbers for titles. Two were fast and convoluted, one was a straight-eighth piece in 3/4, another featured electric sitar and arco bass in a slow, hypnotic dialogue, and yet another featured the baritone guitar in a trio setting. “Lone Jack” and a very surprising rendition of Ornette Coleman’s “Broadway Blues,” with Metheny back on nylon-string guitar, closed out the set.
Winds were gusting up to 60 miles per hour during the Dave Holland Quintet’s November run at Birdland. It couldn’t have been a coincidence. Crowds lined up outside in the unseasonable cold, and their patience was richly rewarded. Steve Nelson was abstract yet firm on vibes and marimba, his back to the band while taming the latter. Trombonist (and de facto concertmaster) Robin Eubanks and saxophonist Chris Potter played one epic solo after another, and drummer Nate Smith did a fine job in the chair formerly held by Billy Kilson. Holland’s meditative yet turbulent solo intros are always a high point in any DHQ set; this time they served as setups for “Points of View” and “Free for All.” Potter’s “Lost and Found,” one of the finest items in the entire DHQ book, was followed by a new, multi-part ballad by Steve Nelson called “He Who Loves Silence.”
Tisziji Muñoz’s music has been described as Santana meets late Coltrane, and that seems about right. With his hair in a top knot and his Mesa/Boogie combo set to perma-fuzz, Muñoz played deep rubato reveries for two nights at the Iridium with Ravi Coltrane on tenor, Paul Shaffer (of Letterman fame) on piano, Don Pate and John Lockwood on basses, and Bob Moses on drums. Muñoz and Moses share a strong musical and spiritual bond, and it spoke clearly through the music. Shaffer, who was mentored by Muñoz back in the day, seemed comfortable in the out-jazz zone but was too low in the mix. The set was tempestuous yet quite melodic; Jobim’s “Dindi,” filtered through a psychedelic lens, was the main highlight.