The Friday Morning Listen: Pat Metheny Group – First Circle (1984)

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by Mark Saleski

Over at A Blog Supreme, they’re tossing around an interesting question: What’s The First Coltrane Album You Fell In Love With? That’s an easy one for me: it was Interstellar Space. It sort of confused me (OK, it confused the heck out of me!) but I totally dug the barely-controlled energy levels, the wild interplay, and how it made me feel.

No doubt, Trane and Rashied Ali opened my ears to a whole different side of jazz.

This got me to thinking…what was the first Pat Metheny album I fell in love with? I’m pretty sure the first one I owned was American Garage. A cousin of mine had that one and he introduced it to me in a listening session that involved Les Dudek’s Ghost Town Parade and Styx’ The Grand Illusion. Yes, I do remember those freakish details. No, I don’t know why.

My first Metheny show was at the Capital Theatre in Concord, New Hampshire. It was on the First Circle tour. Since this was probably my first jazz show, I’m sure I had no idea what to expect. Still, the opening of that concert had my jaw slung down to my knees. The pre-show music (I wonder if Pat had begun his habit of playing “That’s The Way Of The World” back then?) switched over to this noisy bit that sounded like a small heard of angry elephants. It took us a half-minute or so to realize that it was Pat making this noise, as he finally emerged from the rear of the stage with his (now famous) “Red One” guitar. Pat dialed back the squall for a few seconds, sounding out these long, mournful tones. Then, from the rear of the theatre, the rest of the band walked down the isles, carrying and playing drums, cymbals, and other percussion doodads. Lyle Mayes came out on stage with a trumpet, blowing a note and then quickly flipping the horn around, peering inside of the bell to see just what the heck had come out of that thing. It was chaos.

But then…the chaos was interrupted by a sharp whistle shriek and the entire group launched into “Forward March.” The song has been described in many ways, though Metheny’s words are perfect: “The Marching Band At Ornette Coleman High.” Yes, it was weird…and wonderful too.

Of course, I was hooked from the first couple of elephant snorts and went out to purchase First Circle the very next day. Though it sounds nothing like Interstellar Space, the album did play a role in opening my ear parts to different textures and time signatures: the title track is a crazy exercise in such things.

The video that follows is kind of rough, but it will give you an idea of that evening’s unexpected blast of energy.

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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