Jazz fans had a quandary Sunday night. Appearing simultaneously at different venues were Samara Joy and Pat Metheny. She’s an up-and-coming young jazz vocalist who has been getting much well-deserved attention because of her ample talent. Metheny probably fits into the “war horse” category by now, but his longevity has done nothing to still his ever-inquisitive spirit. He tours frequently and always brings something new whenever he comes to town. Which to pick? The tiebreaker, for me, was free tickets! Metheny it is! (Thanks, KUVO!)
Metheny’s doing a solo tour this time around. He did a solo tour not too long ago, in 2010. On that tour he was joined/accompanied by his then-new contraption, the Orchestrion, which automatically played multiple instruments, all under the command of Metheny. For his 2023 tour, Metheny entered the stage with just an acoustic guitar. He proceeded to spin musical tales from the 20th Century, mostly Pat Metheny Group tunes including the hit, “This is Not America,” from the soundtrack to the movie, “The Falcon and the Snowman” which featured David Bowie on vocals.
After that introduction of music familiar to most PMG fans, Metheny stopped to chat with the crowd. He started by explaining that he hasn’t been very loquacious during his concerts in the past, but this time he wanted to tell the audience about how some of his past work came to be and reveal a little about how he plays the music he does and how he creates some of his sounds.
Another theme quickly emerged when he talked affectionately about his friend, the late bassist Charlie Haden whom Metheny called a “mentor.” They had crossed paths several times and worked together on occasion. Eventually, they decided they should record together. Because both artists hail from Missouri, the album was entitled Beyond the Missouri Sky (Verve, 1997). By the way, the natives apparently pronounce the name of the state as “Missour-uh.” What followed this introduction was a medley of tunes from that album, again performed on acoustic guitar.
Next up was a lively tune featuring some boisterous and energetic strumming. Metheny explained that he wrote that song quite a few years ago when his two sons were about ages 5 and 3. Like many parents, he was sometimes challenged to get the kids to bed on time. He composed the song so that the boys would dance around the house and then collapse from exhaustion, at which time it was off to bed. He called the tune, “Song for the Boys.”
He discussed another influence in his musical life, the guitarist John Scofield and mentioned how they recorded an album, I Can See Your House From Here (Blue Note, 1994). From that album, he played one of his compositions, “Message to My Friend.”
Then, just to make sure nobody got the impression that he’s all sweetness and soaring melodies, he jumped into several minutes of noise and loops on one of his acoustic guitars. That was followed by the introduction of one of several instruments he’s invented, in this case, the Pikasso guitar. This was also an opportunity to talk about another important person in his life, his guitar luthier, Linda Manzer. He worked with Manzer to create the dual-neck, 42 string guitar.
Not surprisingly, Metheny is a gear-head when it comes to his instruments. Between songs, he talked about the baritone guitar which has a range somewhere between a typical guitar and a bass guitar. He told a story about a neighbor down the block from his house when he was a kid who had many instruments, including a baritone guitar. The neighbor gave the budding guitarist some advice and told him to tune the middle two strings of guitar up an octave. Young Metheny was still trying to figure out the guitar at that time, but filed away that advice and years later, when he started to experiment with the baritone, he remembered the advice, tuned the middle two strings up and came up with an appealing sound.
Manzer has made at least three baritone guitars for Metheney and pulled out one of those to play a medley of tunes from his solo album, What’s It All About, (Nonsuch, 2011). That was an album of pop tunes which won a Grammy in 2012 for Best New Age Album. Sunday night, some of the tunes in the medley included the title tune, “Alfie,” also “Rainy Days and Mondays.” He also threw in “Last Train Home” from the PMG album Still Live (Talking) (Geffen, 1987).
Next up, he strapped on a blonde hollow body electric guitar which may be the type of guitar he’s most associated with because he spent so much time behind that type of guitar with the Pat Metheny Group. In musician slang, an electric hollow body is known as a “box.” His current album is Dream Box (Modern Recordings, 2023) and includes tunes he’s come up with over the years, but then filed away for a rainy day. He mined that computer file and pulled the most compelling tracks and recorded them for the new album.
Although he didn’t introduce the songs for this part of the concert, much of the material for it was drawn from that album. At this point, he incorporated more loops to set up a background which allowed him to get out front and solo with single note runs which he does so often in an ensemble setting. During the “loops” portion of the show, he also strapped on his synth guitar, another instrument he has developed and goes back to the 1980s with the PMG.
As with many of his song structures, the concert itself slowly built to a climax. After a few loops tunes, he unveiled the 2023 version of the Orchestrion which had been waiting patiently in the back of the stage covered with black draperies. This version of the Orchestrion was much slimmed down from the original 2011 edition. This one focused primarily on percussion, leaving the chords and melodies to the human on the stage.
After a couple of Orchestrion numbers, Metheny then ran around the stage and unveiled three guitars that had been enshrouded and were placed on stands set about chest level. He set up a loop with each guitar, each of which had a different sound, of course. Then he strapped on another guitar and played a solo on top of the entire three-guitar and Orchestrion symphony. The climax!
The first encore included more Orchestrion and generally kept the climatic vibe going. The second encore, however, moved into ballad territory with Metheny back on a solo acoustic to close the show with a beautiful version of the poignant “Wichita Lineman.”
Pat Metheny Group Medley including Minuano (Six Eight), This is Not America, Phase Dancer
Beyond the Missouri Sky Medley
Song for the Boys
Message to A Friend
Baritone guitar, What’s it All About Medley including What’s it All About, Alfie?; Rainy Days and Mondays, Girl from Ipanema and featuring Last Train Home
Nylon string baritone guitar
Loops with box
Multiple guitars and loops
Pat Metheny – Paramount Theater, Denver
October 15, 2023
By Geoff Anderson
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