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Pat Metheny: What's It All About

John Kelman By

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Pat Metheny has released plenty of solo albums over the years, but One Quiet Night (Nonesuch, 2003) found him turning to a different modus operandi, imposing a series of restrictions: one guitar, one tuning, no overdubs. An intimate album of mostly original material, beyond three covers including Keith Jarrett's "My Song" and Gerry & the Pacemakers' hit, "Ferry Cross the Mersey," One Quiet Night was a more intimate and immediate alternative to his production-heavy Pat Metheny Group releases, and recent solo records like the ambitious Orchestrion (Nonesuch, 2010). What's It All About continues the M.O., but introduces a few changes to the mix.

First, while Metheny's rich, low Nashville-tuned baritone acoustic guitar dominates the set, he does employ a handful of other acoustic instruments this time around, in particular his massive 42-string Pikasso guitar on the opener, an exploratory look at Simon & Garfunkel's massive hit, "The Sound of Silence." Metheny always confounds the ear with his apparent ease at coaxing a variety of tones and textures from this instrument that, for most, would be impossibly unwieldy. Tuned specifically around the song's harmonic center, Metheny is able to create a rich weave, combining occasional bass lines with strummed open strings and a Gu Zheng-like frontline melody. As ever with Metheny, melody is paramount, as is respect for the song, even as he expands it to nearly seven minutes, occasionally finding his way to relatively simple vamps that act as links between the more familiar themes.

Metheny also uses a standard six-string acoustic guitar for his surprising and energetic version of The Ventures' "Pipeline," combining with the hit song's memorable surf-bass line with his penchant for rapid chordal strumming—reverence combined with irreverence. He turns to his nylon-string guitar—a particularly lovely choice—on The Beatles' closer, "And I Love Her," where a gentle Latin rhythm masks the guitarist's ever-impressive sleight-of-hand, with his in-the-moment choices creating an unmistakable feeling of overdubbed self-accompaniment, despite there being none.

Another change from One Quiet Night is Metheny's choice of material, this time eschewing original material and, instead, culling from the wealth of hit songs that the guitarist grew up to in the 1960s, that were, as he explains, ..."on my radar before I ever wrote a note of my own, or in a few cases, even before I played an instrument." The Associations' iconic "Cherish" is delivered reasonably reverently, though he gives it a (not surprisingly) Midwestern sheen, while Burt Bacharach/Hal David's smash, "Alfie," is taken ever-so-slightly out through Metheny's reharmonization—skewed, without ever losing sight of its intrinsic melodism.

But the highlight of What's It All About is Metheny's uncharacteristic look at Antonio Carlos Jobim's enduring "Garota (Girl) de Ipanema"—a rubato tone poem suggesting something much darker and dangerous than the breezy ambiance of most versions. With What's It All About, Metheny's ability to think outside the box never comes at the expense of losing sight of it, making music that's easy and accessible, but with deeper layers simmering just beneath its calm surface.

Track Listing: The Sound of Silence; Cherish; Alfie; Pipeline; Garota de Ipanema; Rainy Days and Mondays; That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be; Slow Hot Wind; Betcha By Golly, Wow; And I Love Her.

Personnel: Pat Metheny: baritone guitar (2, 3, 5-9), 42-string Pikasso guitar (1), 6-string guitar (4), nylon-string guitar (10).

Title: What's It All About | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records

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