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by Lee Tomboulian
The Pat Metheny Group played an intense concert August 28th at Robinson Auditorium. Metheny and his group burned and glowed through the evening's material, taken mostly from their two most recent albums, Still Life (Talking) and Letter From Home. Metheny's work seems to tie several strands together: the wide-open -spaces Americana of Aaron Copland and a million western soundtracks; the Beatles, Motown,and other baby boomer music; and the McLuhanesque notion that all world music is fair game, particularly Brazilian pop. But really, it's the life-affirming sense of melody that connects all these. By the end of the concert, it had swept me away. It's not just the eclecticism, but their command of all these idioms that's impressive. The first encore, "Minuono (Six-Eight)", started moodily and moved into a briskly sunny tune, then into a complex rhythm,which hovered somewhere between the island of Bali and a news-theme. Metheny tends his garden varieties and lovely hybrids spring up, even if the seeds are from elsewhere. At any rate, the group, as always, struck a nice balance between melodic prettiness (in the new age sense) and melodic craziness (as in Ornette Coleman). His style is rooted in great jazzmen such as Wes Montgomery, yet he is not afraid of his pop and country influences, but rather shares them with his friends, the audience. He is also not afraid of production: colored lights are tastefully used to intensify the music. He concedes to more MTV-oriented audiences in order to bring them in. Pedro Aznar, the Argentinean multi-instrumental genius, is a composer-bandleader's dream. He sings and scats beautifully, plays everything well, from melodica to steel drum and marimba. Paul Wertico and Armando Marcal manned their drums and percussion posts with energy and conviction, always letting the dynamics ebb and flow and breathe. Their virtuosity is always subordinate to the demands of communication, and to the group's unity. But it is the presence of Lyle Mays that glues the pieces together. His lush textures on synthesizers provide a security blanket for Pat's more avant-garde forays, and his piano solos start softly and sneak up on you, like "Bolero" or early Pink Floyd, and arrive suddenly, with an earned majesty. Pat Metheny's guitar work was like his writing, gorgeously melodic, an honest juxtaposition of soulful gestures and wise bebop commentary. His Synclavier solos tend to build to an unbelievable intensity ,as on his screamer, "Are You Going With Me". His mellifluous sound, once so seemingly unique, is more problematic. It now appears that early in Metheny's career he toured on the same bill with Toninho Horta, a seminal Brazilian guitarist and composer, and after that developed his now trademark sound. A cursory listening to Toninho's work proves that Horta was sounding that way before Pat, and without a lot of extra electronics. Ironically, Toninho is now adopting Pat's old rhythm section in apparent hopes of capturing some of Metheny's financial success. All of this is not to say that Metheny and company aren't fine artists in their own right, with their own statement to make. It's merely that American listeners needn't miss out on their sources. Beleza Tropical, David Byrne's compilation of Brazilian pop, is a good place to start, or anything by Milton Nascimento, who is a father of the wordless Brazilian vocal style Metheny employs, and a composer of beautiful music. Meanwhile, as a friend put it, Metheny is "pretty good for a religious experience.''
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