Pat Metheny | What’s It All About

Pat Metheny
What’s It All About

A Record Reflection by A. Scott Galloway

In honor of it being the first day of summer, I did something I rarely have to do when it comes to new music: I stopped by Amoeba Music on Sunset and bought What’s It All About, the new Metheny solo guitar CD on which – for the first time – he exclusively attends to a selection of 10 pop songs in his inimitable style. Considering that the songs all stem from the `60s and very early `70s, I gathered these were personal touchstones from one of my favorite artist’s formative years as both a young man and aspiring musician. What could be more worthy of purchase than this? I slid it into the car CD player as I wound my way into the hot afternoon, onto the serpentine freeway, and proceeded to get blissfully lost.

While most of the 10-song album features Pat playing a baritone guitar, he begins the program on his mammoth 42-string guitar, filling your speakers with an otherworldly and surreally ironic (given the title) rendering of Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence.” With its elongated lines and decelerated tempo, it sets the tone for the offering as finding Pat in deep exploratory mode, particularly harmonically. There is no fleet fingered soloing or flashy runs on the one hand or easy to sing along with/faithful to the original retreads on the other. This is Metheny – always inspired – which means he savors every note, the maps of their connections within melodies and the way these songs tap the memories of those old enough to have lived when they were all over AM-only transistor radios.

Initially, it can be a little frustrating as your mind wants the melodies to fall into the neat lil’ spaces as you remember them …without the extra rhythmic notes (as on “Alfie”) or without leaning on one note to the point of distraction (as on “Cherish”). By the time you get to “Rainy Days and Mondays,” you realize you have to give yourself over to Pat’s muse and experience these songs with new ears. This opens you to appreciate the heart-dropping key change Pat employs for the solo section of “Alfie” or even his fevered strumming of a good ol’ acoustic 6-string on a fun cover of the surf classic “Pipeline” (an electric guitar staple done by many from The Ventures to Stevie Ray Vaughan).

Most arresting for me is “Garota de Ipanema (The Girl from Ipanema),” one of many compositions from the pen of Brazil’s Antonio Carlos Jobim to which Metheny has lovingly lent his articulate attention over the years. It’s a given that Pat’s take will be light years from the dreaded lounge interpretations that have criminally cheapened the classic. Pat does not disappoint. This interpretation sounds like re-encountering the once light and breezy girl decades later after life has dealt her some cruel blows. Substituting sass with a sadness way past saudade, it’s a deep and dark rumination that is almost unrecognizable. Is Metheny using “the girl” as a metaphor for Rio itself – swingin’ and all the rage during the birth of bossa nova but now plagued with bitter realities of crime and intercultural racism (I know, oh, how the mind can wander)? Or is it again the girl herself, once “tall and tan and young and lovely” now older, discarded and world weary? Or is it the man that first adored the girl then, still yearning for her decades later with frightening desperation and dashed longing? This hauntingly introspective take of “Garota de Ipanema” is downright astounding for the contemplations it conjures out of the same notes deconstructed from a disorienting new perspective.

The more sensual passions of Brazil are represented in Henry Mancini’s “Slow Hot Wind” (the lyric version title of a piece the master composed as the instrumental “Lujon,” later made popular with words penned by Norman Gimbel as sung by Lani Hall with  Sergio Mendes & Brasil `66). Pat’s guitar evokes an arid setting of intrigue on this piece that begins the delicious 3-song home stretch of What’s It All About. It is followed by magical and romantic takes on Thom Bell & Linda Creed’s always delightful “Betcha By Golly Wow” (with thrilling modulations) and Paul McCartney & John Lennon’s heartwarming “And I Love Her” (with exceeding grace and taste on nylon-string guitar).

Pat Metheny is my August Leo brother – a man whose music has been the soundtrack of my life since I relieved the jazz bin at the old Aron’s on Melrose of a promo copy of As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls many, many summers ago. Beyond appreciating his boundless imagination and musicianship, I tremendously respect him for boldly and publicly exploring his artistic directions in varying styles, groupings…and amplitudes. When Pat plays solo acoustic, it truly feels like you’re somewhere in a synapse within his brain – because he is a thinking man’s musician with a heart as big as a black and starry Missouri sky…the likely origin of all the equally beautiful and sometimes challenging music that his latest CD is all about.

A. Scott Galloway
June 21, 2011
The Urban Music Scene

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