Pat Metheny - guitar; Lyle Mays- piano, keyboards; Mark Egan - bass; Dan Gottlieb - drums
Often credited for revitalizing the clean sparkling sound of traditional jazz guitar, Pat Metheny has evolved into a most prolific musician who continues to explore technology within the context of progressive and contemporary jazz. Metheny's recording career began in the mid-1970s while teaching at Boston's Berklee College of Music, when he recorded trio sessions (released on the 1976 LP, Bright Size Life) for pianist Paul Bley's Improvising Artists label, along with fretless electric bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses. Metheny gained more exposure as the second guitarist (along with Mick Goodrick) in vibraphonist Gary Burton's band. Over the course of his three years with Burton, Metheny developed a unique style and articulation that displayed an advanced sense of rhythm and harmony. Although conceptually modern, Metheny's improvising was firmly grounded in the jazz tradition of melody, swing, and the blues.
In 1977, Metheny released "Watercolors," his first recording to feature pianist Lyle Mays, who would become his most frequent collaborator. This album would cement their musical relationship and soon develop into the initial Pat Metheny Group, which included bassist Mark Egan and drummer Dan Gottlieb to round out the quartet. The debut self-titled recording by the Pat Metheny Group was released in 1978 and was both innovative and unique. The Metheny/Mays composing partnership had a distinctively original sound that incorporated folk-style melodies into an electric context while avoiding the rock guitar clichés that dominated much of jazz-fusion at the time. Metheny's shimmering, fluid style, Mays' lyrical keyboards, and the superb rhythm section of Egan (who was still very much a Jaco Pastorius disciple at this stage) and Gotlieb had a special chemistry that was quite impressive. Although less innovative than later work, this album displayed the fluid, fast, and clear sound that would define Metheny as a guitarist, as well as four young musicians creating music that was greater than their individual contributions.
This set, recorded at New York City's Bottom Line in September of 1978, is a wonderful example of the Pat Metheny Group onstage at this early stage, shortly after the release of their debut album. Not surprisingly, the set includes material from that album, but also explores older and side project material in the context of this quartet, as well and a couple of key compositions destined for the group's follow-up, American Garage. As such, this set serves up a fine example of what drew attention to this group in the first place and will be illuminating to anyone interested in this relatively early stage of Pat Metheny's career as a performing musician.
The recording begins in progress with the group exploring "Unity Village," a track from Metheny's aforementioned trio recordings. A lovely ballad that emphasizes improvisation along with melody, this is a fine example of this quartet developing older material before segueing into a impressive solo spot from Metheny and concluding with a hot group romp on "The Windup." This is followed by a lengthy new composition, untitled at the time, but eventually to surface on "American Garage" as the aptly titled "The Epic." This features a wide array of styles, from its initial atmospheric post-bop jazz sound to hot samba sections that feature spectacular solos from Metheny and Mays and even tinges of rock. The group would continue to develop this composition over the course of the next year but it is particularly interesting to hear at such a fresh and early stage.
Several weeks prior to this show, Metheny embarked on sessions for his first solo album, where he composed, arranged, performed, and produced every note of the album himself. The album would be released the following year as New Chautauqua and featured beautifully melodic acoustic guitar compositions. One of the standout tracks from that album, "Hermitage," is performed here, with sparse and tasteful accompaniment from the group. Although smooth and mellow, this displays a melodic inventiveness and harmonic lushness that sets it above much of what later became known as "smooth jazz."
Over the course of the remainder of the set, the Pat Metheny Group perform several more compositions from the debut album, including "Jaco," featuring Mark Egan's throbbing bass lines grooving to the upbeat, the buoyant Lyle Mays showcase, "San Lorenzo" (unfortunately highly truncated due to a master reel change), before they close the set with the brisk pulsing samba of the bopping "Lone Jack," featuring outstanding solo work from Metheny and wonderful interplay between Mays and Egan, ending the set with a bang. The NYC audience wants more and the Pat Metheny Group deliver, with a revved up gospel-inflected take on "American Garage," destined to become the title track of their next album.
Many of the compositions performed here are responsible for establishing Metheny's reputation as a gifted composer and a master guitarist. All of this music has a distinctly hopeful and optimistic sound to it, largely because Metheny concentrates on pure melody and avoids dissonance on his instrument. This approach made the PMG's music stand apart from much of the jazz-fusion of the era. That inventive debut album and this live performance are prime examples of these musicians exploring the potential for beauty in music and doing so free of boundaries.