Forgotten series: Pat Metheny – Bright Size Life (1976)

I’ve always been amazed that Bright Size Life was Metheny’s debut recording. With Bob Moses on drums and Jaco Pastorius on bass, Metheny produced an album that was both unique and instantly timeless.

It’s one of those “stars in alignment” sort of things. And now, thirty-something years later, the music is still fresh.

The title track gives you almost all you need to know about this group of musicians. Pat begins unaccompanied for a quick ascending line before Jaco drops in with a single low note followed by one of his trademark ringing artificial harmonics. As Metheny continues to flesh out each chorus, the bass moves beyond a mere supporting role, becoming a parallel source of improvisation. When Pat drops back mid-tune to let Jaco take a solo, it’s clear that Pastorius and Metheny are of like minds.

Let’s not forget Bob Moses here, who brilliantly fills in any harmonic empty spaces with the most musical cymbal and rimshot work you’re ever likely to hear.

Bright Size Life is laced with so many instances of this type of magical interplay that they’re just too numerous to mention, though “Missouri Uncompromised” is worth noting for its breathtaking “unison soloing.”

What I’ve always found interesting about this album is that many parts of Pat’s musical future are telegraphed by the compositions. There’s the Midwestern openness of “Unity Village,” highly angular approaches to melodic lines (“Omaha Celebration”), and of course: Ornette. Bright Size Life ends with an exhilarating run through Coleman’s “Round Trip/Broadway Blues.”

A stunning conclusion to one of my favorite jazz albums.

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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 writes several 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.