Pat Metheny Group – Offramp – ECM Records (1982/2018) ECM 1216 180-gram stereo vinyl, 42:20 *****:

(Pat Metheny – guitar, guitar synthesizer, synclavier guitar; Lyle Mays – piano, synthesizer, autoharp, organ, synclavier; Steve Rodby – acoustic/electric bass; Nana Vasconcelos – percussion, voice, berimbau; Dan Gottlieb – drums)

ECM has released a vibrant 180-gram vinyl reissue of Offramp. Thirty-six years after its debut,  the ambitious scope and instrumentation of Pat Metheny is still compelling. It garnered the first of 10 Grammys and reached #1 on Billboard Jazz Albums. The Pat Metheny Group was still anchored by the impressive collaborative duo of Metheny and Lyle Mays. Dan Gottlieb returned on drums, but there was a new bassist, Steve Rodby. Nana Vasconcelos (on his second project with Pat Metheny) added some Brazilian ambience on percussion and vocals. Side 1 opens with the electronic-laden “Barcarole”. With a percussion/drum undercurrent, Metheny  constructs a melody with a synthesized guitar. The tones are edgy, but not too shrill. Mays adds a floating keyboard and the atmospherics might remind listeners of the musical contexts on As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. It is a creative statement, and sheds light on the ever-changing direction of this guitarist. The next track is perhaps the most recognizable Metheny/Mays composition, “Are You Going With Me?”. Clocking in at 8:47, the gently pulsating rhythm and instrumental hooks (with guitar and synthesizer leading the way) are hypnotic. The melody is warm and textured. At the 2:11 mark, the electronic shading takes center stage. Lyle Mays offers an extended (and at times pitch-bending) solo on synclavier. The winsome notes sound like a harmonica with half-note manipulation. Metheny follows on synclavier guitar with emotional resonance. This approximates a jazzy trumpet (Metheny’s initial instrument). The solo features a key modulation. As the overall intensity builds momentum, it never loses the basic vamp. Its impact never diminishes.

In a change of pace, “Au Lait” begins with a swirling ethereal acoustic guitar and syncopated rhythm. Vasconcelos contributes spacey vocals. As the song appears to be winding down. Metheny executes a glowing harmonic guitar solo. The studio tracking is expansive and moving. When Mays comes in on acoustic piano, the lyricism and band chemistry exude a gossamer feel. Side 2 crackles with the up tempo “Eighteen”. Metheny’s joyous buoyancy permeates the groove fest. The rhythm section cooks with a steady rock beat (featuring a distinctive Gottlieb drum fill) which leads into another inspired Metheny run. Mays amplifies the aesthetics with organ and synthesizer. Another sharp turn occurs on the title track. Inspired by Ornette Coleman, this free-jazz “suite” evolves from a first movement of acid-tinged fusion jazz to hushed improvisational percussion and bass. It concludes with avant-garde cacophony. “James” appears to be a polar opposite with an accessible contemporary jam of trademark Metheny/Mays songwriting. With traditional instrumentation, Metheny’s lead is articulate and thoughtful. The song is tightly performed and draws on PMG aspirational vibes. Lyle Mays’ extended piano solo is bluesy with gospel inflections. He hits various crescendos and flourishes that are stirring. When the band returns to the basic melody it is captivating. Eschewing the “big finish” Offramp concludes with an airy, ruminative exploration, “The Bat (Part II)”.

The audio quality of this 180-gram vinyl is outstanding. There is virtually no surface noise and not a single pop of hiss. All of the electronic and acoustic instruments are captured with crispness and layered balance. The juxtaposition of jagged and mellow tonality is handled adroitly. Under the auspices of producer Manfred Eicher and engineer Jan Eric Kongshaug, the group is able to search different sub-genres of jazz without abandoning its core identity. This was the third ECM album by Pat Methany Group, and it propelled them to stardom.

Offramp is a valuable addition to any jazz or vinyl library!           

Side 1: Barcarole; Are You Going With Me?; Au Lait
Side 2: Eighteen; Off Ramp; James; The Bat (Part II)

—Robbie Gerson

Link to more information and music from Pat Metheny’s site here.

Additional information from the publisher, ECM.