PAT METHENY (1995)
By Ralph Burnett
In the ranks of significant musical innovators, Pat Metheny in unarguably numbered. His developments in the '80's with the Synclavier guitar-synthesizer, earned Metheny a worldwide reputation not only as a great lyrical composer, but the pioneer of a new sound. Even today, those early recordings do not sound dated, as does much of the electronic experimentation that took place during that period. The brilliant and adventurous performances of the Pat Metheny Group have earned them five Grammys from their last five albums, and thunderous applause that can be heard around the globe.
Like most players of his generation, Metheny was influenced by the Beatles and other pop groups; but that was before discovering and mining the treasures of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Ornette Coleman. "I was about 12 years old" said Pat in a 1985 interview. "I walked into the TG&Y store and found an Ornette record called New York Is Now in the 50¢ bin. So I bought the record and took it home and thought it was the greatest thing I ever heard in my life. When I think back on that now--how weird I must have been as a 12-year-old, especially in Lee's Summit [Missouri], of all places."
Pat Metheny's musical history has been one of leaps rather than steps. He was inspired to take up jazz guitar after seeing the Gary Burton Quartet in concert when he was 14. " My family was into band music, marches--John Sousa and that sort of thing," reflects Pat. "'Cause out in the Midwest, there wasn't that much cultural activity. So when the time came that I was getting into music, the guitar was the one instrument [my parents] didn't want me to play. So, being a rebellious 14-year-old, that was the one instrument I definitely wanted to play." The guitar, however, was not the only focus of Metheny's early arsenal of performance instruments. "I played french horn up until I got out of high school 'cause I needed those credits to graduate" recalls Pat. "I remember I used to have to play the half-time show in order to get my credit, then I'd race into Kansas City to make my gig, still in my marching band uniform, switch clothes, and go play in this organ trio."
At age 19, Pat joined Gary Burton's group for three years before going out on his own. It was, however, his mutually inspiring relationship with keyboardist Lyle Mays that shaped the sound of what became the Pat Metheny Group. "One of the focuses of the Pat Metheny Group,"states Metheny, "is to find a particular balance that exists between the writing and improvisation, which I think is unique to us. While my interest as a bandleader has always been to find a vehicle for myself within the Group, more than that or equal to that is to try to find ways of playing as an ensemble that uses all of the materials available to us--the technology that's emerged, which we've been quite fearless about using; the musicianship within the Group, which is considerable; and the stylistic flexibility I think we offer."