It’s been a while since you could talk about there being a “Pat Metheny sound.” The delicate, sustained electric tone that characterized his career-making work for ECM Records has made way over the past few decades to accomodate everything from noise-rock squall to various folk sounds.
So put him in a format as flexible as his duet with bassist Larry Grenadier on Saturday night, and you’re well advised to expect a few sharp turns. Performing the first of two sold-out SFJAZZ sets at Marines’ Memorial Theater (And how often, otherwise, does Metheny get the satisfaction of knowing he’s following int he giant footsteps of Frank Sinatra, Burgess Meredith and The Andrews Sisters?), Metheny started of with a nod to traditional jazz guitar a la Wes Montgomery and Jim Hall.
Picking a big hollow-body electric, Metheny gave ample evidence of his romantic, sentimental side in the way he held and savored notes on a thoughful reading of his early classic “Bright Size Life” and an achingly gorgeous renditiion of “The Bat,” from Metheny’s 1980 collaboration with Dewey Redman. Metheny later switched to classical guitar for a couple of tunes, including a lovely flamenco-flavored romp with “Find Me in Your Dreams.”
After an hour or so of playing it subtle and interweaving bautifully with Grenadier’s dynamic bass lines, it was time for the gutarist to start rooting around in his bag of tricks. First up was a walkabout with his custom three-neck, 42-string “Pikasso” guitar, which looks like the kind of mutant offspring you might get if a zither bonked Jimmy Page’s guitar cabinet. More interesting than pleasing, Metheny only occassionally favored the harmonic promise of the instrument over its dissonant power.
After that, it was an epic run with a slightly abbrieviated version of the mechanical curiosity Metheny built for last year’s “Orchestrion,” which allows him to control everything from a high-hat cymbal to a jug band via his guitar and effects pedals. The virtual orchestra is impressive to behold and can add all manner of intriguing undertones to Metheny’s sound. (Not to mention it inspired the guitarist to go full-on electric and reprise that seminal ECM sound.) But by the end, it was hard to separate vision from gimmick and not to feel that Metheny shouldn’t be allowed around a soldering iron for a while.
Closing out the night, however, Metheny was a simple and effective as he gets, back to carressing the nylon strings for a delicate, heartfelt appreciation of “And I Love Her.”
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