Friday Playlist – Downbeat Hall of Fame Edition


I have decided that since I was digging doing music rather than a real ‘five things Friday’ that I would just call my posts ‘Friday Playlist’ … and for this week I have a special theme. In the most recent issue of DownBeat magazine, guitarist Pat Metheny was named to the Hall of Fame.

So to celebrate I figured I would list my top 5 Pat Metheny recordings – pulling from his solo, group and sideman work over the past 38 years since he burst onto the scene with Bright Size Life.

Secret Story: This is not just one of the greatest Metheny recordings, but some of the best music of the last few few decades. The compositions are nuanced, richly structured, and never seem to run out of harmonic surprises. This was also a deeply personal project for Metheny, and features some somber and melancholy music as well as joyous and celebratory moments.

Song X – Pat Metheny and Ornette Coleman … TOGETHER? Insane but true – in 1985 when Metheny was still viewed largely as a fairly mainstream jazz & fusion guitarist, he recorded this amazing album. And while some at the time viewed at as largely an Ornette thing, viewed through the lens of hindsight it is clear that Metheny was an equal partner. Not an easy listen, but some of his (and Ornette’s) best work.

Orchestrion – I took the family to see this live, and there were three amazing things: (1) seeing Metheny play live (always great), (2) watching the incredible electro-mechanical spectacle of Orchestrion actually play music (with only a couple of small functional glitches) and (3) seeing Metheny construct a complete improvised multi-part song live and then improvise over it, seamlessly switching in an AABA song theme with dozens of instruments taking part!

Shadows & Light (Joni Mitchell) – I had just started listening to Metheny and Jaco Pastorius when this live album came out in 1980, and it was stunning in scope and vision. It showed me why I always liked Joni, and featured wide open playing from Metheny, Jaco, Lyle Mays and Michael Brecker.

The First Circle – This is what I would call the end of the first PMG era, before he started splitting his musical output between the group, solo stuff, and innovative side projects. It is also the second and last time I saw the PMG live. I still love the music of Offramp and The First Circle, as it represents the group functioning as a true sum of parts and executing the shared visions of Metheny and Lyle Mays exquisitely.

I always feel a bit weird about these ‘Hall of Fame’ things … and looking at the Down Beat Reader’s Poll ALWAYS makes me sad because it feels like a celebration of the status quo. The winners are generally established favorites, deserving people who end up eclipsing up and coming talent.

But at the same time I am glad to see Metheny getting broad acclaim – when I was young he was dismissed as either smooth jazz or fusion, neither of which were taken seriously by the jazz press. Yet through the years he has made some of the farthest reaching and most important jazz music on a seemingly annual basis.

So congratulations to Pat Metheny … and I look forward to the upcoming new ‘Unity Group’ recording and your continued restless spirit of innovation!


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