Metheny Leads New Quartet on Nostalgic Trip at Lobero Theatre

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Pat Metheny plays his Pikasso guitar during a performance at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, California, on Sept. 14.

(Photo: DavidBazemore.com)

Pat Metheny startled many longtime fans by actually taking some time off last year, but the prolific and restlessly in-motion guitarist is back on track with his creative work ethic.

This year’s slate of activity has included the release of his double-album Unity Sessions (Nonesuch)—documenting his group with saxophonist Chris Potter as a foil—and an adventurous outing with trumpeter Cuong Vu, Cuong Vu Trio Meets Pat Metheny (Nonesuch), plus a short duo tour with bass legend Ron Carter.

Enter a new quartet: The guitarist has once again teamed up with longtime drummer and ever-ready ally Antonio Sanchez alongside two impressive and flexible young players: British pianist Gwilym Simcock and bassist Linda Oh (who topped the category Rising Star–Bass in the 2012 DownBeat Critics Poll).

A few days before playing the main stage at the Monterey Jazz Festival, Metheny’s fresh foursome stopped in at a venue where the guitarist has dazzled fans in the past: the historic and intimate Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara, California, considered by many (present company included) to be one of America’s finest “jazz rooms.”

What became immediately apparent in this inviting space was that Metheny seemed to relish the new ensemble encounter—and making contact with members of a fertile young generation of jazz players—while also taking this occasion to take a little tour of his musical life so far.

More than many recent projects or live shows, the guitarist was in a fairly retrospective mood. Smatterings of new material were in the mix, but because this is a new and as-yet unrecorded ensemble, there was no “new album” to lean on in concert. Metheny took the occasion to call up a list of tunes from his 40-year discography, starting with songs like the spidery cool “Unity Village,” from his 1976 ECM debut with Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses, Bright Size Life—still one of the guitarist’s best albums to date.

Additionally, “Question and Answer,” from the Roy Haynes/Dave Holland special trio project, was on the list, as was the ever-endearing and sweetly infectious “James” and Ornette Coleman-ized free-bop flurries.

From Metheny’s “greatest hit” niche, the Brazilian-tinged triadic massage of “Phase Dance” emerged towards concert’s end, in a duet with Simcock. That dialogue came between a duet with Oh—whose overall work this night was stellar, insightful and intrinsically supportive—on a melody-free take on an ethereally balladic rendition of Jobim’s “How Insensitive” (a Metheny favorite), and a roiling duet with drummer Sanchez. The ideally matched guitar-drum pairing ran the gamut of intensities and dynamics, fading into an atmospheric haze to close.

One distinction of this quartet’s instrumentation has to do with the added chordal input; this is the first time Metheny has worked closely with a pianist (aside from a co-leader project he did with Brad Mehldau in 2006) since his long stint with Lyle Mays in the popular Pat Metheny Group. Most of the solo time during this gig was devoted to Metheny and Sanchez (duly displaying his remarkable, nuanced chops). But it was a pleasure to hear Simcock’s fluent phrasings, lyricism, inventive vibrancy and will to experiment (when the going got freer).

At the Lobero, over the two-plus hour show, the guitarist—in fine, recharged form—supplied his customary sweep of appealing melodicism and exploratory might, mostly on his Ibanez jazz-box guitar (and a classical guitar for softer moments).

From the reaches of his available guitar options, his 42-string Pikasso guitar and the intriguing oddity of his fretless nylon-stringed guitar served as quirky timbral asides, and he cut loose with the trumpet-meets-electric-guitar tones of his guitar synth.

Group dynamics and Metheny’s memory lane-hugging aside, one of the poignant moments of the show came during a solo classical guitar encore, in a rambling medley that—in keeping with his wistful nostalgic frame of mind—touched on former musical partners now gone.

The late David Bowie was one connection, represented by the song they collaborated on in the early ’90s, “This Is Not America” (from the soundtrack to the 1985 film The Falcon and the Snowman).

Metheny’s deeper, more entrenched partner Charlie Haden also snuck into concert consciousness and into this room (where Haden played many times), via the reverent melody of Haden’s hymn-like “Silence.” The simple yet searching, contemplative tune sounds all the more moving since Haden’s passing in 2014, especially in kindred spirit Metheny’s hands.

Still naturally chameleonic, Metheny is a seasoned artist with an awareness of the sweep and continuity of his musical adventure-in-progress, and he is up to new and old tricks with this impressive, potential-filled quartet. Clearly, it’s another Metheny project to keep an eye and ear out for.




On Sale Now
May 2019
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