Pat Metheny – Pat Metheny Group – ECM Records ECM 1114 (1978/2015) [distr. by Universal Music Group] 180-gram stereo vinyl, 41:10 *****:
(Pat Metheny – 6-string guitar, 12-string guitar; Lyle Mays – piano, Oberheim synthesizer, autoharp; Mark Egan – bass; Dan Gottlieb – drums)
Forty years after the auspicious ECM debut, Pat Metheny Group remains a stellar jazz album. While the instrumentation is simpler than future projects, the original quartet (Pat Metheny/guitars; Lyle Mays/piano, synthesizer; Mark Egan/bass; Dan Gottlieb/drums) showcase their skills as a cohesive ensemble and contemporary improvisators. Side 1 opens with a classic Metheny/Mays composition, “San Lorenzo”. In what seems like a beginning movement, there are a few simple guitar chords, then acoustic piano with hi-hat-infused drums. Mays’ piano alternates between atmospheric shading and muscular chording. Metheny and Mays play together as things heat up. The jazzy guitar phrasing is excellent. This complex hybrid jazz form (sometimes referred to as fusion) is harmonic and fluid, and it radiates with texture. Transitioning to an ethereal interlude, Mays offers a refined piano solo that is shaded by Metheny. Mays shifts to a buoyant inflection, and when the band leader joins him, it is a dual-pronged lead that is mesmerizing. It is understandable why “San Lorenzo” became a staple of PMG live performances. All of the musical complexity and approachable instrumentation elevate the songs.
Another “live” favorite “Phase Dance” follows. The recognizable grooves and hooks of Metheny are driven by a pulsating beat. Metheny’s sprightly licks soar but with restrained intensity. As Mays intones with his nuanced synthesizer, there is a cinematic flow. He follows with a traditional jazz piano solo that is countered by Egan’s stellar bass. The quartet returns to the original refrain as Metheny confidently assumes lead and soloing. All of the instrumentals work to maintain the compositional integrity. There are low-keyed moments and others that create energetic jubilation. On his tribute to bassist Jaco Pastorius, Metheny lays down a sustained chord hook. Mays’ soulful piano and the relentless timing of Egan and Gottlieb set the pace for an extended solo by Metheny. His lines are crystalline and expressive against the band’s punctuated tempos. Egan solos with potency and grace as Mays contributes some bluesy fills. Returning to the infectious refrain, the jam reflects unbridled passion.
With a considerable change of pace, Metheny executes a ruminative acoustic guitar solo performance on “April Wind”. In a brief 2:09, he displays a nimble precision in his fingering that approximates classical guitar. The folk vibe continues at the start of “April Joy”. Egan’s bass lines takes on a life of their own. An up tempo transition introduces a Latin resonance. Metheny’s gliding solo is articulated with festive agility. Group flourishes enhance the carefree mood as Mays’ creative touches add color. In what seems like a second part, there is a folk guitar riff, backed by autoharp. Mays’ winsome synthesizer glows like a reed instrument. As the band joins in a rhythmic undercurrent, Metheny wails on guitar, leading to a crescendo-laden finish. The finale (“Lone Jack”) is a hard-driving free-for-all which features the instrumental chemistry of the band, especially between M & M. Metheny cooks with dazzling speed and jazzy modulation. The “big sound” is compelling. Then there is a tender run by Mays on piano. His playing is artful and full of wistful accents. Everyone returns for the high-octane conclusion.
Pat Metheny Group was a benchmark for contemporary jazz. This re-mastered 180-gram vinyl captures both the atmospheric and instrumental aesthetics that defined this group. The overall mix is pristine with superb balance. Metheny and Mays’ historical collaboration would net 11 Grammys. Pat Metheny Group is approachable music and helped to define modern jazz.
Side 1: San Lorenzo; Phase Dance
Side 2: Jaco; April Wind; April Joy; Lone Jack
Link to more information and music from Pat Metheny’s site here.
Additional information from the publisher, ECM.