ECM releases new audiophile vinyl of a seminal 1970s jazz album!

Pat Metheny Group – American Garage – ECM Records ECM 1155 (1979/2010) 180-gram stereo vinyl, 35:21 [distr. by Universal Music Group] *****:

(Pat Metheny – 6 & 12-string guitars; Lyle Mays – piano, Oberheim, autoharp, organ; Mark Egan – bass; Dan Gottlieb – drums)

Pat Metheny was born into a musical family in Missouri. His father and brother both played trumpet, and he started his musical journey on horn. Like many Americans, he saw The Beatles on Ed Sullivans show in 1964, and yet another guitarist was born. He taught guitar at the University Of Miami and The Berklee School Of Music. Metheny released his debut Bright Size Life on ECM Records in 1976 (with Jaco Pastorius/bass and Bob Moses (drums). The diverse musical styles reflected jazz fusion, contemporary and Latin influences. His next album, Watercolors (1977) represented the beginning of his notable collaboration with pianist Lyle Mays. In 1978, the Pat Metheny Group was formed (with bassist Mark Egan and drummer Dan Gottlieb), resulting in the self-titled project. Then PMG recorded American Garage and it soared to #1 on the Billboard jazz chart. From 1982-85, Metheny (at (ECM) left an indelible mark on contemporary jazz with albums like OffRamp, Travels and First Circle.

At a creative peak, Metheny ventured into film soundtracks, most notably The Falcon And The Snowman which featured a collaboration with David Bowie (This Is Not America). He performed with Joni Mitchell on her Shadows And Light Tour. With artistic fervor, he recorded a variety of jazz albums, solo and with assorted band groups. Metheny continued his experimental approach with electronic instruments, that resulted in 2010s Orchestrion. His amazing career includes 20 Grammys in 10 different categories. In addition to John McLaughlin and Ralph Towner, Metheny helped to popularize the use of acoustic 12-string guitar in jazz. He continues to record and perform, always pushing the boundaries.

ECM Records has released an audiophile vinyl recording of American Garage. In this effort, Metheny (in pairing with Mays) has created a mixture of rock and jazz that is rooted in the contextual aura of Americas heartland. The album gets off to a rousing start with (Cross The) Hearland, as the hard-rocking tempos are crystallized by Methenys nimble guitar licks and Maysrhythmic synthesizer and piano. Bassist Mark Egan and drummer Dan Gottlieb propel the quartet. At the 2: 40 mark, there is a gentler interlude with understated lead and 12-strng acoustic guitar accents. But the underlying rhythm and heartfelt resonance reverberate in a near Brazilian swirling landscape that comes down with backbeat fury at 4:55 following a spine-tingling crescendo. Its all hot licks and accessibility. Airstream(whose namesake trailers are depicted on the cover) employs a quick jazz/rock intro before Mays takes the lead with an elegant, soulful piano run. Metheny joins in with punctuated emphasis and easygoing flowing riffs. The band has an intuitive feel for each other, especially Metheny and Mays. PM adds well-timed jazz phrasing and chord modulation in sustained delivery.

The Searchepitomizes the sound and chemistry of the Pat Metheny Group. With a sprightly rhythm guitar anchor, Mays soars on the Oberheim, building to a nimble Latin-infused transition. His extended piano solo is equally adept, radiating elegance as the tempo shifts into 3/4 time. Metheny adds potency with guitar to build up the momentum. Then the quartet settles into the gentler first verse riffs. A certain highlight is the title track. With a rock and roll countdown and tough downbeat, Metheny lets loose with some r & b licks against a gospel-piano. The melody is anthemic, but infused with jazzy guitar and piano. Metheny rocks out while Mays and the rhythm section add some funk. At 2:47 there is a pure rock moment before a trademark PMG groove fest leads into the cohesive finish. After the succinct (barely over 4 minutes) impact of American Garage, The Epicis by comparison an extended jazz suite. After a fusion opening, Metheny lays down a delicate, lyrical lead run. Mays plays in unison, and then there is an explosive middle piece with tempo urgency. Mays unleashes a stellar bop-flavored solo and is followed by Methenys passion and impeccable timing. The ensemble is at an energetic peak. An ethereal interlude gives Egan the opportunity for a solo as the jazzier intricacies of the arrangement are explored. Pats ruminative solo captures the moody texture. The Pat Metheny Group barrels to a potent close with driving conviction.

This vinyl reissue of American Garage is perfectly suited to this music. The overall mix is precise and balanced. Methenys guitars have a fluid, distortion-free tonality. The bass and drums are well-placed in the bottom end and work in a complementary way. As the instruments combine in a fuller sound, nothing is muddled. Stereo separation is flawless and precise, even with layered tracks.

Side 1:  (Cross The) Heartland; Airstream; The Search
Side 2:  American Garage, The Epic

—Robbie Gerson