Pat Metheny Trio Flynn Center for The Performing Arts
October 19, 2007
It's always enlightening to see Pat Metheny perform live but perhaps never more so than on his current tour. With drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Christina McBride, the Missouri native is one of three brilliant equals when he takes the stage as he did in Vermont on this October night.
The compositional aspect of Metheny's work that prevails with his various groupsand even to a lesser extent in his recent collaboration with pianist Brad Mehldautakes a back seat to improvisation in the trio setting. Yet elements of that approach remain when the prime objective is improvisation because even in themidst of spontaneity, the structural dimension of the guitarist's thought processes is evident.
The acoustic segment that opened the Flynn show demonstrated not just Metheny's wide vocabulary but the nuances of inflections and phrasing that distinguish his playing. Especially in the Mehldau piece, "Unrequited, the harmonic subtlety suggested how more complex arrangements arise out of Metheny compositions, such as "So It May Secretly Begin from Still Life (Talking), in the moment of improvisation and performance.
Certainly the use of the Picasso guitar for "The Sound of Water is an even more obvious display of the multi-dimensional musical mind of Metheny. The forty-eight string instrument seemed less of a gimmick than a practical tool to enable the musician (who helped create and design it (with Toronto luthier Linda Manzer) to bring a concept to fruition. Likewise, the use of the synth-guitar toward set's end sounded like an appropriate means toward an expressive end as the group genuinely rocked sans the clichés of a style so closely aligned with the guitar hero role.
That loudest of all interludes preceded by mere moments the duo breakdowns Metheny introduced as being so much "fun" for him as well as his peers on preceding nights. And certainly, to be able to focus on the dynamic-in-play between the musicians in pairs strikingly demonstrated why, as a three-man group, they are such a formidable unit.
Metheny's interlude with Sanchez was a breathless sprint, exhibiting how the two share a light firm touch that enables not just speed during such musical matches, but detail of interaction. It was comparable to the fluidity the whole trio displayed when performing the title song from their forthcoming Nonesuch studio album Day Trip.
Physically imposing as is McBride, it is not his stature but his own technique and ability to think outside the conventional bassist's role that enable him to make it seem effortless to play the standup bass. His rolling lines remained equal parts rippling currents and pronounced rhythm benchmarks, especially when he played his electric instrument for the sole time for the rabidly demanded encore (this rowdy, holy roller crowd seemed devotional to a faulthooting, hollering and shouting between tune interludes). Perhaps explaining to some degree why the r&b/rock changes navigated so faultlessly by the trio at this point carried a certain air of condescension: it was almost as if Metheny, Sanchez and McBride wanted to prove that they too could play rudimentary changes, and as convincingly as those bands for whom such elemental patterns are their niche if not limit.
But this was ultimately only a relative letdown from the somewhat hurried run-throughs of excerpts, such as the title song and RoundTrip/Broadway Blues" from Metheny's very first solo album Bright Size Life. For close to two hours on the Flynn stage there was a seemingly telepathic thought process occurring: Metheny Co. engaged in such involved improvisation together that it became all the more remarkable to hear them individually replicate those parts in sequence, then reassemble the pieces in full.
Those moments were much preferable and far more impressive than the saccharine likes of the acoustic number to be included on the January CD. "When I Find You in My Dreams may explain why, in the afternoon's Q&A session at FlynnSpace, a space downstairs from the mainstage adorned with plants and a modestly lighted backdrop, Pat Metheny named Karen Carpenter as a role model of melodic excellence.
While that pronouncement may have taken the predominantly college-age attendees by surprise, they and most of the those who attended the nearly sold-out concert no doubt got what they expected from the intelligent improvisation and bracing delivery of the guitarist and his equally-eloquent partners.