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True to his muse

Jazz guitarist Pat Metheny says his musical curiosity keeps him going in eclectic, unpredictable directions.

By PHILIP BOOTH
Published October 26, 2003

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[Photo: Warner Bros.]
Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny's One Quiet Night, a starkly beautiful, solo guitar collection released this year, was long overdue.

Playing a baritone guitar tuned several steps lower than standard E tuning, the celebrated jazz musician turns in appealing, evocative renditions of his Last Train Home and several new compositions, along with interpretations of Keith Jarrett's My Song, the Norah Jones hit Don't Know Why and Gerry and the Pacemakers' Ferry Cross the Mersey.

The album, Metheny's first of unadorned, unaccompanied six-string work, was the result of a happy accident, says Metheny, who performs Monday at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez.

"It sort of fell off the back of a truck or something," he said by telephone from a tour stop in Annapolis, Md. "I happened to be recording myself one night when I discovered this unique tuning that I had kind of forgotten many years before.

"I took the recordings with me over the course of a year and listened to them nightly. I started thinking, "This could be a record.' It's been well-received. After 30 years of playing, I had never made a record where it's just me playing the guitar."

The bare bones instrumentation - just the guitarist, no overdubs or artificial sweetening - marks a dramatic departure from the lush, heavily textured sound of last year's Speaking of Now and earlier Pat Metheny Group albums.

Fans of the Missouri-born guitarist have generally remained loyal to his varying musical travels. His debut, 1975's Bright Size Life, featured bassist Jaco Pastorius; the two remained close until Pastorius' death. The Pat Metheny Group, with keyboardist Lyle Mays, released its first recording in 1978 and quickly found a following.

Along the way, Metheny ventured into 80/81, with bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and saxophonists Dewey Redman and Michael Brecker; the soundtrack for the 1984 movie The Falcon and the Snowman; and 1993's I Can See Your House From Here, with guitarist John Scofield. Metheny is not afraid to tackle difficult listening projects, including Song X (1985) with legendary free-jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman, The Sign of 4 (1996) with avant-garde guitarist Derek Bailey and, his most controversial, 1992's Zero Tolerance for Silence, an hour or so of uninterrupted six-string white noise.

Fans are willing to plug into Metheny's voice, regardless of the setting.

"It must be connected to whatever it is they find in that music that they respond to," he said.

"One thing that has been true over the years in my band is we've rarely lost (listeners). We just keep adding a few people each year. People that are in there tend to hang, to kind of stick with their interest in it. That's part of what has allowed the freedom to keep doing all the different things, that support of that core group of people that buy the records and give us the mandate."

Even without the fans, however, Metheny said he'd be playing the same music.

"My curiosity about music is one that it goes beyond the circumstances of the culture that it's happening in. Whether I was having the "career' that I'm having or not, I'm sure that my activities would be similar," he said. "My musical concerns are paramount to me. That creates everything else that happens."

Metheny's follow-the-muse approach to career planning led to his latest project, a tour with Sanchez, the Pat Metheny Group drummer, and 31-year-old McBride, probably the best-known jazz bassist of his generation.

"From the first note, it felt right," Metheny said of the collaboration. "Both Antonio and Christian have the same sort of ecumenical vision of jazz that I do. Some nights we play only standards. Some nights we play only free. Some nights it can be tunes from my other records. It's very, very audience-defined, in a way. Whatever the vibe seems to be, we either go there or push against it or do something else."

Preview

Pat Metheny solo and trio, with Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez, 8 p.m. Monday, Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 1010 N MacInnes Place, Tampa. (The show originally was to be at Mahaffey Theater at Bayfront Center. Those tickets will be honored in Tampa, but call the TBPAC box office to change seat assignment.) $35 and $42.50. (813) 229-7827.


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