An Evening With Pat Metheny REVIEW
Pat Metheny REVIEW
Auckland Town Hall, Tuesday, March 10, 2020
Pat Metheny’s career retrospective delights with dazzling displays and solo finesse, but definition is lacking for DAN SPERBER. Have we heard this quartet at its best?
A twin necked guitar-mandolin-zither hybrid thing on a dimly lit stage and a smiley chap with a huge stork’s nest of grey hair. It could be a folk night down the back of Hamilton somewhere but no, 1500 people (at a guess) have braved Covid-19 and the horrors of CBD parking to get their brains jazzed-out for two hours and 40 minutes at the Auckland Town Hall.
Guitar legend Pat Metheny plays his instruments like a surgeon, and from 10 rows back it’s easy to see his arm muscles flexing as he picks intricate patterns. His humble weed-grower appearance aside – jeans and a finely striped top – Metheny is a man worth studying. He knows stuff. Look at that smile.
What about his band? Antonio Sanchez has an enormous drum kit. We’ll be hearing a lot of him, rest assured. He’s got a cool eighties aesthetic, with his tight t-shirt and toned arms.
The other two will have to earn our respect. Pianist Gwylim Simcock is dressed like he’s been beamed in from his other job MDing community theatre. He doesn’t have a ‘look’ like his two much better-known bosses. How can he have a sound if he doesn’t have a look? my judgey teenage self whines.
On double bass, Linda May Han Oh looks serious and a bit fierce. Small of stature, she’s also rocking a square vibe, like a health professional or university lecturer — much like most of tonight’s audience.
“Metheny plays his instruments like a surgeon, and from 10 rows back it’s easy to see his arm muscles flexing as he picks intricate patterns”
Meanwhile the music’s underway. After a bit of solo toodling, Metheny’s joined by the band, except we’re struggling to hear Simcock, who’s a bit drowned out in the mix.
Metheny said in our earlier bFM interview that working with piano players is a challenge because he’s all over the harmony himself. That’s confirmed in this show: the only time Simcock really has oxygen is when Metheny’s sitting out during the occasional piano solo and in these moments he shines, almost Mike Garson-like. (Garson is the genius pianist who lit up Bowie songs like ‘Aladdin Sane’.)
Metheny fires up his back catalogue and reminds us he’s a master of stitching rows of small bluesy gestures into intricate melodic tapestries. He pushes past jazz, bending strings and altering sounds.
The time passes quickly and I realise I have no idea what these tunes are called, except for ‘Bright Size Life’ from his debut album on ECM, which he plays second. There’s a spirited solo by Simcock and it’s fun to see Pat smiling as he watches a younger player deal to one of his oldest tunes.
“He’s a master of stitching rows of small bluesy gestures into intricate melodic tapestries”
Oh starts to make herself known a few tunes in. Her bottom end notes are a bit lost in the echoey town hall but her high register moves as she takes a solo are punchy and now and then recall the flourishes of the great Jaco Pastorius, Metheny’s sideman from his early prime.
Sanchez busts out some double time on the bell of the ride cymbal and as Sanchez, Metheny and Oh fire up, it strikes me that sometimes I’m watching a trio, with a pianist over to the side, waiting quietly.
The last and only other time Metheny played here was at a 2006 show in Wellington with just Sanchez and Christian McBride, a heavyweight bass superstar. I miss his thunder and the way he anchored Sanchez in the trio. Oh seems rather to be chasing the drummer, though this could be an acoustics issue – for the musicians and audience.
Yes, Metheny’s playing a lot of his uptempo tunes tonight and the room acoustics somehow aren’t working for me. The guitar is loud but the intricate runs of notes are sometimes lost. The numbers that sound best feature two or three of the musicians at a time or just Metheny on solo acoustic guitar.
“It’s a missed opportunity to salute the recently departed Lyle Mays, whose keyboard work propelled Metheny to stardom in the 1980s”
There’s a nice moment when Oh and Sanchez are trading fours. She’s very strong on the solos but I’m not convinced that she’s really holding down the song grooves. She’s working too hard. McBride, by comparison, made the material look, feel and sound easy. Was it the difference in venue? Is the Michael Fowler Centre a more forgiving space for electric guitar jazz?
After an hour and a half on stage Metheny addresses the audience for the first time. He cheerfully introduces his band and his plan to keep playing his back catalogue. Then it’s back to work.
The acoustic number that follows is a bit sugary for me. Simcock makes brief use of his synth to add to the cheesy vibe. It’s a missed opportunity to salute the recently departed Lyle Mays, whose keyboard work propelled Metheny to stardom in the 1980s. Only the beautiful left-hand brushwork of Sanchez now saves this material.
Looking around at the crowd it strikes me that we’re in a pretty conservative setting. Over 50, middle class, male skew. No one has a giant furball of hair like Pat, and there’s only the faintest whiff of marijuana from a few old stoners who pre-loaded.
Good on Pat then, for going fully wild on a duo number with Sanchez. It’s loud, fast and fiddly and dangerous enough to qualify as free jazz meeting space rock. It gets Metheny the first of three standing ovations from a generously appreciative audience.
The fusion is followed by a solo acoustic medley, starting with ‘Minuano’ and ending with a gorgeous reharmonisation of ‘Last Train Home’, perhaps Metheny’s best known – and loveliest – tune.
“No one has a giant furball of hair like Pat, and there’s only the faintest whiff of marijuana from a few old stoners”
On the closer Oh moves to fretless bass — another Jaco callback — and Metheny and the band bust out some of their most thrilling work.
We leave happy, maybe not completely convinced. It’s a hell of a back catalogue and Metheny has lost none of his dexterity or musical wit, but something was lost in the sound tonight, despite my plum seating. I hope Metheny comes back. Maybe the Bruce Mason in Takapuna would be a better fit next time?