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Pat Metheny Side Eye at the Paramount Theatre

Geoff Anderson BY

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Pat Metheny Side Eye
Paramount Theatre
Denver, CO
October 9, 2021

Forrest Gump said life is like a box of chocolates—you never know what you'll get until you dive in. Pat Metheny is like that. His most popular confection, The Pat Metheny Group, could always be counted on for a sweet, yet sophisticated flavor. Beyond the PMG however, Metheny's many recipes sometimes delighted, sometimes puzzled, and even occasionally proved indigestible for some of his many fans.

The delicacies served up on the current tour of Pat Metheny and his trio, officially known as Side-Eye, will be pleasing to the palate of the PMG fan. This is due, in large part, to the carefully selected ingredients which include heaping helpings of PMG favorites. The other key to the Trio's gastronomic success lies, of course, with the chef himself and his two sous chefs, James Francies on keyboards and Joe Dyson on drums.

At Saturday night's Paramount show, Metheny didn't speak much, but when he did, it was mainly to dish up praise for his two sidemen. During the initial introductions at the beginning of the show, he beamed like a kid showing off a brand new car, or was that a chef with a brand new Cuisinart? Either way, Metheny couldn't have been happier to have these two in the kitchen with him.

Dyson, from New Orleans, got the initial introduction when, on the first song of the evening, Metheny played a duet with him. Metheny explained the jazz world is overflowing with great jazz drummers these days and Dyson is one of them. The introductory morsel was "Turnaround," a song by Ornette Coleman, a founder of the free jazz movement, and a chef who typically did not whip up PMG-style sweets. Metheny has been a Coleman fan for decades, having recorded this tune (80/81 (ECM, 1980) and as a sideman with Joshua Redman, Wish (Warner Brothers, 1993)) and many other Coleman compositions over the years. Metheny even recorded the album Song X (Geffen, 1986) with Coleman, one of those servings PMG fans couldn't quite choke down even though it received critical praise. "Turnaround," however, is a little more accessible and melodic, in a dark chocolate sort of way, than many other Coleman recipes and seemed to set the mood for the evening— not quite PMG, but not too far afield either.

Dyson then left the stage and Metheny introduced James Francies, the Trio's keyboard player. As with Dyson, Metheny gushed over Frances, putting him in the top echelon of jazz keyboardists today. Their duet number was "Have You Heard," firmly putting the confectioners into PMG territory with this tune from the PMG's Letter from Home (Geffen, 1990).

In all, the Trio played five PMG tunes (not counting the medley in the first encore), plus two others from past Pat Metheny albums including the title tune of Metheny's first solo album, Bright Size Life (ECM, 1976) which featured Jaco Pastorius and came out only a few years before the first PMG album.

The latest Pat Metheny album, released September 10, is called Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV) (Modern Recordings, 2021), recorded live in New York. Metheny's idea is to create a band with a revolving cast. He's found so many exciting musicians lately that he's had trouble focusing on only a few. For example, he has about a dozen drummers in mind that he wants to cook with. Keyboardist Francies is on the album, but Marcus Gilmore held down the drum chair. The "V1-IV" refers to the fact that this was the fourth version of the Side-Eye project. The material on the album mirrored Saturday night's set list with a combination of new material and revivified gems from the past.

On Saturday night, following the two duets, the whole band remained on stage the rest of the evening, for the most part. The duets were followed by more PMG material including "So It May Secretly Begin" from Still Life (Talking) (Geffen, 1987) one of PMG's more successful albums. "Bright Size Life" followed along with more PMG material. A highlight of the evening was "When We Were Free" from PMG's Quartet (Geffen, 1996). That one took the intensity level to new heights. Francies' piano solo conjured images of McCoy Tyner with its power and extreme virtuosity.

The new material from the album didn't appear until well into the second half of the show. The first was "It Starts When We Disappear," a 13 minute epic. Also making an appearance was "Zenith Blues" another one of the longer tracks on the new album.

As usual, Metheny dug into his bag of tricks. He started the night with his trademark blonde electric hollow body. But it wasn't too long before he pulled out the synth-guitar which he used on several songs throughout the evening. Also making an appearance was the 42-string Picasso guitar which radiated an Eastern sitar-like sound. And finally, a slimmed down Orchestrion was unveiled for "It Starts When We Disappear." This version of the Orchestrion had bells and marimba for its melodic elements along with other assorted percussion. The machine is a remnant of Metheny's experiment a few years ago of playing only with the machine. Since that time, he's brought along various smaller incarnations on tour.

As a trio, the band doesn't have the vast expanse of some of the larger versions of the PMG. Francies' virtuosity helps make up for that by usually holding down the low end with his left hand while comping chords or soloing with his right hand. Metheny likens the situation to the classic jazz organ trio. However, whereas some organ players in that format would handle the bottom with foot pedals, Francies was all hands. During a couple Francies solos, Metheny played the bass line on the lower register of his guitar, freeing Francies to play a more traditional solo. Dyson's active drumming also enlarged the sound of the band. Then, of course, the Orchestrion added further dimensions which, when fully employed, approximated the sound of a six or seven man PMG.

In contrast to the trio accompanied by the Orchestrion, Metheny came out for the first encore and played a solo medley of mainly PMG favorites. He's been doing these medleys for many years now, but they are real crowd-pleasers as the audience recognizes one familiar melody after another. Saturday night's medley started with "Minuano (Six Eight)" another one from Still Life (Talking). He also threw in "This is Not America" and "Last Train Home," (yet another from Sill LIfe) among others. The full band returned for the second encore and a version of a PMG favorite, the laid-back "Are You Going With Me."

Metheny's playing throughout the evening was crisply state-of-the-art, as usual. He continues to search for new sounds and concepts while keeping his eye on his expansive and flavorful past.

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