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Down Pat

Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius By

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Ending up in Oslo, Norway, in January of 1978 (those gas station road maps are notoriously unreliable), the boys decided to record their first album after a brief debate as to whether or not to record their Mediocre Follow-Up album first then record the Brilliant Debut. While that sort of outside-the-box thinking is now recognized and rewarded, in those unenlightened days it was just considered stupid. Their Brilliant Debut, the self-titled Pat Metheny Group , was released to predictably rave reviews while the critics sharpened their knives in anticipation of the Mediocre Follow-Up. Pat was one step ahead of them, though, and circumvented their expectations by following up with the solo New Chautauqua , which still holds the record for most U's in an album title.

By skipping the Mediocre Follow-Up in favor of the A Break to Explore Artistic Ideas Outside of the Group Dynamic Solo Album, which usually comes after the Commercial Disappointment but before the Box Set, Pat short-circuited the customary cycle and left stunned critics to write generic denunciations of whatever it was they were heaping praise upon last week. In the resultant chaos, New Chautauqua was named Best Album of the Year by several magazines.

While a lesser man would have used this opportunity to pound out several lightweight efforts that fans would be obligated to buy at an inflated price later on just so they could say they had all his albums, Pat and the PMG released American Garage which is credited with helping to rehabilitate victims of disco music and for many years, because of its 35-minute length, was used by Domino's delivery drivers to insure timely pizza arrivals. 'There by 'Epic' or it's free.' went the motto, until corporate efficiency experts discovered that listening to the PMG was acting as a 'gateway' jazz and leading to harder stuff. Drivers getting hooked on Coltrane were taking hours to deliver the pies, while those freebasing Cecil Taylor were sometimes ending up several states away seemingly incoherent yet oddly exhilarated.

Later that same day.

Firmly established now in the hierarchy of the jazz elite, Pat spent the eighties like most of us, working on having really good hair and trying to avoid a social disease. He also found time to tour relentlessly and lay down a track with anyone who was standing anywhere near a recording device. Pat was everywhere in the eighties from backing gigs with Joni Mitchell and David Bowie to collaborating with Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden to his legendary live performances with Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland and Jack DeJohnette (who took up jazz drumming after making his fortune in the cutthroat world of fancy mustard). He is also known for his guest appearance on a very special Facts of Life as Natalie's itinerant musician Uncle Raoul, who teaches the girls an important lesson about what sort of things go on in the back of tour vans.

As close as Pat came to rock star status in the eighties, though, he remained true not only to his own creative voice but to creating a bridge to jazz for rock fans who may have already ventured onto the Miles Davis peninsula or the Steely Dan isthmus. His fluid, melodic guitar was like the Pied Piper's flute except that A) It lead people to jazz, not away from small German towns, and B) You don't blow into a guitar if you're serious about getting anywhere with the instrument.

The nineties and into the new millennium have found Pat, like yeast, active and an integral part of any decent pizza crust(?). He continues to record and perform tirelessly (following a dispute with Goodyear), as well as serving as a de facto elder statesman for the Fusion movement. His legion of fans stretches around the world, from the most desolate corners of Indiana to the heartland of India. Or vice versa. From Bright Size Life to his most recent One Quiet Night (which features Pat alone on the distinctive baritone guitar, one of which I must add to the Geniusdome guitar collection or else my life will seem hollow and empty somehow), he has expanded the lexicon of jazz guitar to include such previously unheard-of possibilities as amp feedback and commercial success.

In closing, I will mention that this is the first time in the storied history of the Guide that I have subjected an unsuspecting figure to a Geniusing at the behest of an admirer of both the artist and the Genius. The Red Queen (La Reina Roja), a Hoosier of distinction and recovering applebutter addict, was the impetus for this month's dose. Just so you know who to blame.

Till next month, kids. exit to your right and enjoy the rest of AAJ.


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