Pat Metheny is one of the most popular musicians in modern jazz. He’s recorded highly regarded trio albums, Grammy Award-winning solo albums, scores for motion pictures, collaborations with the composers Steve Reich and Ornette Coleman, and duets with fellow guitarists John Scofield and Charlie Haden. His most successful work has been with the band he formed in 1977, the Path Metheny Group. His music is both loved and hated in the jazz community; some think his work is too close to light rock, but few can deny the tonal beauty and suave phrasing of his playing.
Metheny grew up in Lee’s Summit, a small town outside Kansas City, Missouri. He started playing trumpet but later switched to the guitar. By the time he was fifteen, he was playing gigs with some of the best jazz musicians in Kansas City. At eighteen, he became the youngest teacher ever at the University of Miami. In 1974, when he was nineteen, he joined vibraphonist Gary Burton’s group. Under his mentorship, Metheny progressed rapidly as both a leader and a musician. It was also at this time that he became one of the youngest teachers ever at Boston’s Berklee College of Music. In 1975, Metheny released his first album, Bright Size Life.
There is no setting that defines Metheny more than his role as the leader of the Pat Metheny Group. Their first album, The Pat Metheny Group [ECM #1114], was recorded for the ECM label in January 1978 in Oslo, Norway. Metheny was twenty-five at the time. Dan Gottlieb appears on drums, Mark Egan on bass, and Lyle Mays on keyboards, including a synthesizer. The quartet’s playing is precise, their solos are brief and articulate, and the songwriting is lyrical and melodic. Many hundreds of nights on the road gave the band ample opportunity to perfect their sound before going into the studio to record.
Two of the CD’s most enduring songs are collaborations with Mays. The floating “San Lorenzo” has a subtle Brazilian groove, and the progressive “Phase Dance” is a fusion anthem. “Jaco,” a light funk number, is Metheny’s tribute to his friend and favourite bass player, Jaco Pastorius.
But make no mistake, this is Metheny’s album. His playing is reverberant, lyrical, and melodic. At the time, he was reinventing the traditional guitar sound for a new generation of players, developing a way of playing that was modern in conception and its use of new technology and bold ideas but grounded deeply in the jazz tradition of melody.