Pat Metheny – Secret Story (1992): On Second Thought

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The cover art for Pat Metheny’s Secret Story, released in July 1992 via Geffen, is telling: There’s no central image, but a dizzying patchwork of photographs.

The lineup here is much the same: Metheny made a solo album with about 80 other players – including everybody from the Pat Metheny Group and a good portion of the London Orchestra. I was more concerned with the possible absence of one person in particular: But on a rare recording without major input from Lyle Mays, Metheny seemed to have freed up some: He plays acoustic piano on one track; he adds bird noises to another. And, never fear: Mays does appear.

In fact, Secret Story played like a reunion throughout – with bandmates past and present all sitting in. Pat Metheny copped to it, saying more people played on this project (his first, er, solo LP since 1979’s New Chautauqua) “than on all the records I’ve made combined.” Metheny has only rarely explored straight-ahead jazz – notably on 80/81 and the superb Questions and Answers. His interests seem to lie more in the hybrid; once I accepted that, I came to understand why experiments like this one succeeded so completely.

As with so much involving Secret Story, however, that took time. Its themes must be pieced together, like that cover image. Slight on improvisation, this album is punctuated by notable flourishes – from the frentic voices of the Choir of the Cambodian Royal Palace in the first half to the crashing entrance of full orchestration toward the end. And yet, it remains – often like Pat Metheny himself – more subtle than overpowering.

That’s perhaps why, for so long, I thought of this more as an intriguing record than a great one, an album that was better early in the proceedings. Time, however, has continued to reveal its quiet, darkly emotional secrets. This is something that must be listened to loudly, and often.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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