(Cross the) Heartland: Pat Metheny, “Eighteen” (1981)

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Ah, “Eighteen,” Pat Metheny’s ultimate road trip song. It’s always made me feel like I’d just escaped something — the end of the school year, a particularly difficult project at work — to move into the light of the shining unknown, nothing but open road and possibilities ahead. Though there are plenty of examples, this song fits right into the idea of music expressing what can’t be rendered in words. I can feel the joy here, it’s not imagined.

After that burbling synthesizer intro, Lyle establishes a left-hand motif that propels us through the rest of the song. Pat takes his first solo, a vehicle for pure emotional release, a feeling that’s extended by a series of ascending key changes, building tension until…

…until that Danny Gottlieb drum break. Seriously, how many people out there play “air drums” against jazz records? OK, maybe more than I realize, but Gottlieb leaves nothing on the table as his snapping break pushes the song yet higher again, with Metheny taking bits of that first solo and spinning them into something even more wonderful. From an album that’s full of meditative passages, “Eighteen” feels like it explodes the boundaries expected of it.

Next up: Offramp

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