by Mark Saleski
Many artists, when asked to pick a favorite from their own discography, will lean toward their most recent release. Sure, I can see that. You work on new material, it’s fresh and exiting, and right there in the front of your mind.
I’ve wondered what Pat Metheny’s response would be if he was asked to pick a favorite from his many trio lineups. Obviously, this is like asking him to do a little apple/orange comparing … and maybe that’s not fair. But, given the chance, I’d have to ask.
Here are some thoughts on Metheny’s various trio lineups (in reverse chronological order). Maybe one of them would make his list …
DAY TRIP (2008): Metheny’s level and/or style of play has always been highly influenced by who is sitting behind the kit. With the addition of Antonio Sanchez to his main group, Metheny seems to have found his ultimate partner in rhythm. There were some absolutely sublime guitar/drum moments on “The Way Up.” The same can be said for the shows from that tour. Just check out this duet version of “(Go) Get It.” Crazy, isn’t it?
TRIO 99->00 (1999): I think the ‘official’ name was just The Pat Metheny Trio (not sure about that; the danged cd packaging was a little confusing). It was quite an interesting outfit with Larry Grenadier on bass and Bill Stewart (who’s done a lot of work with John Scofield) on drums. The studio record contains some fine playing including a nice cover of “Giant Steps,” the bouncy opener “(Go) Get It” and reinterpretations of Metheny tunes “Lone Jack” and “Travels.” But if you want to get a more accurate idea of what this group was capable of, check out Trio Live. When I saw them in concert, I was immediately struck by the nearly telepathic interplay between Metheny’s guitar and Stewart’s drums. I can’t remember the tune (“Question and Answer”?) but they opened the show with just guitar and drums ripping through the song. It takes a very musical drummer to pull that off. Also on this record is a shimmering “Into The Dream,” Pat’s Picasso guitar workout, and “Faith Healer,” a room-clearing noisefest that makes me grin ear-to-ear.
QUESTION AND ANSWER (1989): Dave Holland on bass and Roy Haynes on drums. Can it get any better than that? Probably not. This is Metheny’s most straight-ahead trio date with covers of Miles Davis’ “Solar,” Ornette’s “Law Years” and the standard “All The Things You Are.” Also offered are several Metheny originals. What’s crazy about Q&A is (again this surfaces) the level of interplay. You listen to their version of “Solar” and it sounds like they’ve been playing together for years. Not the case. Pat had a little time off at the end of 1989, the Power Station had a day open…so they just showed up and played. For eight hours.
REJOICING (1984): Another mini-supergroup. This time with jazz giant Charlie Haden on bass and equally great Billy Higgins on drums. It’s an Ornette-heavy recording (“Tears Inside,” “Humpty Dumpty” and “Rejoicing”) that also has one of Pat’s early noise-a-thons, “The Calling.” Internet discussions on that last song used to spread the rumor that this tune was somehow Pat’s way of getting back at ECM’s Manfred Eicher … a sort of jazz version of Lou Reed’s Metal Machine Music. Not true. For as sweet as Metheny can (and tends to) play, he’s just as likely to uncork some truly blasphemous noise. I’ve heard him play this tune with the Roy Haynes group, so it’s no toss-off.
BRIGHT SIZE LIFE (1976): This one is often cited as the long-time fan favorite. Count me in that group. The playing is just stellar. It’s hard to go wrong is Bob Moses on drums and Jaco Pastorius on bass. If you own no Pat Metheny albums, this is a good place to start. It has some of the feel of his early solo record New Chautauqua put together with some of the best jazz guitar trio work I’ve ever heard. I know that Pat is fond of this era because, all these years later, he still returns to these tunes in concert.