When Pat Metheny sits before the audience at New York’s Beacon Theatre, on November 14, he will start the concert by playing an instrument that the native of Lee’s Summit, MO left alone until 2001: the baritone guitar.
Pat Metheny changed gears again with his 2003 release of One Quiet Night (Warner Jazz). The album features rewritten old material, new songs and improvisations. It is a distinctly different record. One Quiet Night contains no overdubs, no arrangements, no orchestrations – nothing that we have come to associate with Pat Metheny’s work of the last ten years.
Luthier Linda Manzer has made most of Metheny’s guitars in recent years and, as with many of them, there is a story behind the baritone instrument. Manzer had worked with Craig Snyder to design their version of a baritone guitar, because Snyder wanted one for his studio work in New York City. Snyder showed the guitar to Metheny and Metheny contacted Manzer right away.
“In fact, I should have guessed,” says Manzer, “...because he was often tuning his six string Manzer down really low. It's a slightly longer baritone scale than most baritones out there...”
In November 2001, Metheny filled up three CDs before hitting the road with the Pat Metheny Group (PMG). Almost by ritual, he listened to the solo recordings every night after his group gigs. The recording is the product not only of the baritone guitar, but a “half-Nashville” tuning of the instrument.
”What I heard back was something that kind of intrigued me, because it was clearly me but it didn’t sound quite like me. Because the opportunities that that guitar presented in that tuning...it was taking me down some different roads,” says Metheny.
”Basically, the guitar ends up being sort of like three, parallel two-string guitars. It’s sort of got like a middle range guitar on the top, it’s got this high guitar in the middle and this very low guitar in the bottom. So I could think in terms of...three quarters of a string quartet – and was able to kind of keep these lines going that would ultimately need to shift to this other octave, an octave other than the way the lines would normally go.
”It’s also strange that for the first one (solo record), it’s this weird, incredibly-difficult-to-play guitar in this completely bizarre tuning,” says Pat. “So that makes me then think, ‘You know, maybe I should do another one, or another couple of them at some point’ – on a conventional guitar that I’ve actually been playing most of my life now...and I probably will get to that.”
Pat Metheny’s New York City show concludes a year spent mostly playing in a trio context with drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Christian McBride. In the summer, Metheny played as an artist in residence at several European festivals.
The Beacon concert begged the question: why not play New York more often?
”I don’t why. It’s funny,” laughs Metheny. ”I like being able to be pretty incognito here and just kind of not be ‘on the scene’ too much. But at the same time, I like being able to go out and hear people and kind of slip in and out of places...you know, sitting in the back and hear half of the set or something.”
Discover he did too. Metheny heard Antonio Sanchez in New York and, for the first time in almost two decades, made room for a sharp new drummer. Metheny describes Sanchez as the kind of player that comes along once in one or two generations.
Pat Metheny believes Sanchez and McBride will inspire the trio work on November 14: “You know, I’ve played in trio situations where it’s completely arranged and completely improvised and every shade in between – and sometimes, in the same tune. There’s just something about it that is endlessly appealing and particularly with guitar because it hasn’t really been defined.”
The PMG is concluding its next, as yet untitled, record for release in 2004. Don’t pack up the baritone yet; Metheny might keep using it.
Reviews of Pat Metheny's One Quiet Night :By Eddie Becton . By Farrell Lowe .
Specifications on Pat Metheny’s Manzer baritone six string: Top: German Spruce; Back and side: Curly Koa; Neck: South American Mahogany; Fingerboard: Ebony bound w/Ebony and Abalone side dots; Bridge: Ebony; Struts: Sitka Spruce; Rosette: Abalone w/boxwood and Rosewood; Scale Length: 73.5 cm (29”).