Pat Metheny, baritone guitar – One Quiet Night – Metheny Group Productions/ Nonesuch 517795-2, 72:24 ****:
One thing that can be said about guitarist Pat Metheny: he never stays in one place for long. Over the decades he has tried his hand at world jazz, ambient soundtracks (A Map of the World), distorted electric excursions (Zero Tolerance for Silence), and collaborated with a wide range of musical adventurers, from Derek Bailey to Ornette Coleman. In 2003 Metheny attempted something new: an album of solo acoustic guitar, with no band, no overdubs, and minimal production. That became the Grammy winning One Quiet Night, which ironically won in the New Age category. For anyone who missed it the first time, Nonesuch has reissued One Quiet Night, adding a bonus live track, but other than that, the label has left the record as it was conceived to be: a little rough around the edges, and an intimate performance featuring Metheny’s baritone guitar and his imagination.
The genesis for this project occurred when Metheny rediscovered a special low Nashville tuning, which when combined with his acoustic baritone guitar, provided spacious harmonic possibilities and challenged Metheny to rethink his approach to playing. The eventual result were some home recordings of seemingly simple melodic tunes, ranging from pop standards to jazz and several new originals.
This is not a guitarist’s showcase full of flamboyant, fast fingering and slashing chord progressions. Rather, this is a confidential, quiet affair, exemplified by the title track, which follows an unadorned template: extemporizing on a single melody and sustaining a solitary mood, in this case a lightly rural and rustic feeling. "Song for the Boys," which proceeds the title tune, has a more upbeat, pop-ish flavor: but listened to attentively, subtle variations and modulations are noticed which yield both charm and a twitch of tension to what is fundamentally a down-to-earth dedication to children.
Since the material consists of single-take recordings, there are also interesting situations where listeners can hear when Metheny is caught up in a moment and commences something unexpected, as he does during lucent "Another Chance," when he circles around halfway through the song. It is an unintended, all-too-human instance that would normally be thrown aside for a perfect take. Another example happens during cascading "Over on 4th Street," where listeners can clearly hear Metheny working his way through the song structure, trying out different chords or sequences. It is akin to observing an actor during a pre-dress rehearsal.
The interpretative compositions were surprises when initially heard back in 2003, but the material associated with Gerry and the Pacemakers, Norah Jones, and Keith Jarrett has survived the test of time. The Jesse Harris-written "Don’t Know Why," which Jones turned into a user-friendly radio hit, has a late-night, after-hours radiance that aptly suits the album’s aesthetic. Metheny does a wonderful job crafting a heartfelt and inspired translation of Jarrett’s "My Song." While some jazz fans might find this folk-flickered ballad a bit on the light side, thoughtful inspection reveals Metheny’s version of "My Song" to be a considerate, emotive experience.
Even though more than half a decade has passed, one of the record’s consistent highlights still remains Metheny’s remarkably poignant reading of the 1965 beat group pop single "Ferry Cross the Mersey." Metheny eloquently communicates how the Gerry and the Pacemakers’ plain pop piece can be readjusted into a thing of elegance, delicacy, and affection by carefully employing the complete application of a specific instrument to its broadest scope.
The closing sweetener is bonus live cut, "In All We See," which carries a deeper bass tone than the other efforts but otherwise fits well with the program’s subdued frame of mind. "In All We See" is enjoyable but not an essential addition. If you already own the initial 2003 release of One Quiet Night, save the cash unless you are a completist.
As mentioned, this is basically a homemade undertaking. Some fans who require a higher fidelity production may find the occasional flawed tuning, or Metheny’s use of reverb that is used throughout, to be minor faults. These should be considered small quibbles, because One Quiet Night is an admirable representation of when an artist trusts his inner voice and lets the creative spirit loose, and is recommended for those who appreciate the like-minded New Chautauqua and Beyond the Missouri Sky.
1. One Quiet Night
2. Song for the Boys
3. Don’t Know Why
4. Another Chance
5. Time Goes On
6. My Song
7. Peace Memory
8. Ferry Cross the Mersey
9. Over on 4th Street
10. I Will Find the Way
11. North to South, East to West
12. Last Train Home
13. In All We See
— Doug Simpson