Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about this certain Pat Metheny album from long ago. Since the first time I’ve heard it in the music listening room at my college’s student union in the early ’80s, New Chautauqua (ECM Records) has been one of those records in which I’ve sought refuge when I wanted a quick dose of serenity. Metheny has made other “quiet” records since then, such as One Quiet Night and What’s It All About, but this one is the earliest, and will always be the one that connects to me the strongest.
Anyway, I was brought back to this album, as what inevitably happens every few years, this time by attending a Pat Metheny Unity Band concert in my town with my brother. As we were waiting for the concert to begin, we chatted about some PM records we liked. My brother bought me my first one, American Garage, back in ’79, sparking up my fandom of Metheny’s music that continues strong today. I learned during our discussion that my brother has never heard Metheny’s other 1979 release.
New Chautauqua was arguably the first of many of his “diversion” albums, where he indulges in a side of himself, usually alone or with minimal accompaniment, that he doesn’t really get to dig into on Pat Metheny Group albums or other “main” albums. This one doesn’t neatly fall into the jazz or fusion categories, it’s even relatively light on improvisation. It’s more like some organic new age/bluegrass/instrumental folk record that’s unconcerned about how you might slot it, but with Pat putting forward original pastoral tunes with mainly an acoustic guitar and a electric bass and electric guitar dubbed in (and no percussion), it just flows out with simple, uncomplicated emotions: joy (“New Chautauqua”), contentment (“Country Poem”), dreaming (“Sueño con México”), peacefulness (“Hermitage”), and so on. The common thread in all these emotions the record evokes is these are the desirable states of mind. That’s why I keep coming back to this record.
I was also enticed to return to it just a few days after that Unity concert by Mark Saleski’s review of Metheny’s Orchestrion Project DVD. Metheny didn’t visit any songs from New Chautauqua for the show I just saw, but Mark revealed that he did on the DVD, when he wrote:
For my ears (and eyes), the absolute high point comes with an Orchestrion-ized version of “Sueño con México” from my favorite Metheny solo record New Chautauqua. Pat samples the opening acoustic guitar arpeggio and builds from there.
I haven’t seen this yet, but I need to. “Sueño con México” has long been my favorite track on New Chautauqua, shaped by some beautiful glissando guitar picking resembling the falling of light rain, with an unexpected climax as Pat briefly dubs in a flamenco-style guitar in a somewhat dramatic fashion, then receding back to that dreamy state, subtly inserting a few harmonic patterns over that hypnotic repeating figure.
When I first got hooked on New Chautauqua some thirty years ago, I wondered if I would ever meet anyone who got into it as I have. I knew at some level that those people existed, but in the pre-Information Age, they only existed in the abstract. Now, I know first hand such people who do, as well as all the other “weird” music I like. They don’t just like music, they are inspired and moved by music of all kinds, every day of their lives, and have an insatiable hunger to seek out more music to keep them going.
One of those souls turns fifty-one today. That’s the guy who, like me, started with American Garage and followed Pat through every twist and turn of an amazing musical career, all the way up to that Orchestrion DVD he wrote about just a few weeks ago.
Happy Birthday, Mark.
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