A publicity photo of Pat Metheny. Photo by J. Peden.
Pat Metheny has won nearly every honor there is for a musician to win. His 44 recordings have sold over 20 million records sold worldwide, and have included three gold records. Those recordings have earned him an amazing 34 Grammy nominations and 20 Grammy Awards, across an astonishing 10 categories (ranging across pop, jazz, contemporary jazz, jazz instrumental, rock instrumental, jazz fusion, new age, and country instrumental). In 2013, he was only the fourth guitarist ever selected for the DownBeat Hall of Fame. And last year, he was both inducted into the Royal Swedish Academy of Music and declared an NEA Jazz Master.
With all this background, it was a special pleasure to be able to see a player of this stature perform at an intimate venue like The Dakota. Metheny is 65 years old, but he has lost none of the energy and intensity in his playing. And he still has that distinctive large mop of hair.
His current performance arrangement is described as “Side-Eye w/James Francies & Marcus Gilmore”. As Metheny stated, he wants “to create an ongoing setting to feature a rotating cast of new and upcoming musicians who have particularly caught my interest along the way”. Francies was on keyboards, and Gilmore on drums, and each had ample opportunities throughout the evening to show their mastery; during their solos, Metheny would generally listen with the broad grin of a proud teacher. Metheny’s own breadth of styles was well on display throughout the night; within the same song, the guitar sound could switch from swing to soft jazz to the kind of “rock guitar god” sound that would have been at home on stage with The Who or Led Zeppelin.
The trio went from song to song in a business-like fashion, barely stopping for applause before going on to the next piece. Metheny only spoke to the audience once during the set. As he explained at that point, the first two thirds of the set were reworked versions of his older works – e.g., “Bright Size Life”, “(It’s Just) Talk”, “Always and Forever”, and “Better Days Ahead”. The last third was given to new music, examples of what he called his “39-page extravaganzas”. This final portion of the set is also where the special props came out.
For a few of the songs, those attending could watch a version of Metheny’s “Orchestrion Project”, in which a variety of instruments at the back of the stage accompanied the trio, controlled remotely from Metheny’s guitar. And everyone’s favorite Metheny musical instrument, the Pikasso, also made an appearance for one song.
Back in 1984, Pat Metheny had approached master guitar maker Linda Manzer, asking her to design and build a guitar with “as many strings as possible.” The eventual result was the Pikasso guitar, an instrument with an astounding 42 strings.
With Metheny, one always gets a little bit of everything, but he never disappoints.
Pat Metheny returns to the Dakota for two more shows tonight at 7 pm and 9:30 pm.