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Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Pat Metheny: Whats It All About

Pat Metheny and I grew up around the same time, and I remember listening to the pop music of the 1960s on AM radio, knowing even then that it was a lucky and good thing to be experiencing. There was "rock," sure, but this melodically and harmonically rich pop music was just as emblematic of the time—and if you let it do so, it could tie you back to the past too.

Metheny's latest disc, What's It All About (full review on PopMatters right HERE) is a solo acoustic guitar recital of these kinds of tunes, mostly played on a uniquely-tuned baritone acoustic guitar.  (A few songs are played on nylon string guitar or the 42-string "Pikasso" guitar.)  In being a solo acoustic recording, the record is a follow-up to Metheny's One Quiet Night from 2003.  The tunes here, however, are also united by being from this unique era of songwriting.

So we get Pat playing Bacharach's "Alfie," which requires no reinterpretation or gimmickry.  Metheny simply loses himself in the astonishing harmonies, pulling on melodic threads that unspool beautifully. (The failure of more jazz musicians to really absorb and explore the Bacharach catalog is hereby noted and lamented.)  Similarly, the Stylistics "Betcha By Golly, Wow" is played simply but with a touch of swing, and Metheny's delicious voicings bring some new harmonies to the front in various places.

The most spare and surprising interpretation here is Metheny’s rethinking of Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema”. If you are like me, then you have heard this bossa nova chestnut played in countless piano bars, usually with an insulting anonymity. Metheny conceives it as a minimal exercise, using just a fragment of the melody and emphasizing a series of new harmonies that allow him to explore the texture and resonance of his instrument. If you release your expectations, then your ear will hang on every note and every fresh chord.

In addition, the album features the surf-rock classic "Pipeline", "The Sounds of Silence", "And I Love Her", and "The Girl from Ipanema", among other '60s tunes.  Some listeners will find too fluffy, to noodly, but they're wrong.  What's It All About is a beautiful statement, and not less good because it is mostly simple.

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