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Pat Metheny

Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
Troy, NY
October 18, 2007

By J Hunter

For the last few years, there's been something good brewing onstage between Pat Metheny, Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez; we got a taste of it in 2003 when the all-star trio played the Egg, and the world will be getting a taste when Day Trip - Metheny's first recording with this unit - is released this coming January. The new material made up the lion's share of their amazing date at Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, which was inspiring for both the audience and the players.

“This is a gig I've always really looked forward to,” Metheny told us, flashing his trademark farmboy grin from under his Beethoven Gone Wild haircut. “It's not often you get to play on top of a bank!” All kidding aside, Metheny waxed poetic about the Hall, informing us that the venue's legendary acoustics had inspired him to expand on his show-opening solo acoustic set. Metheny had opened the Egg show with an acoustic set, too, showcasing material from his solo-guitar disc One Quiet Night (Warner Brothers, 2003). This night, though, it was all about Metheny reveling in the breathtaking sound that has made the Hall a prime recording space.

Sitting on a stool, casually dressed in faded jeans and a black long-sleeve t-shirt, Metheny started the night on baritone guitar, bewitching us with a crystalline version of “Make Peace.” His fingerpicking attack infused the piece with drama and passion, and the underlying bass tone was so thick, you could have sworn McBride was accompanying him from offstage. Switching guitars with each song, Metheny took us through a wonderful set that included Jobim's “How Insensitive” and a medley (“In preparation for the Vegas days,” Metheny cracked) that included “O Susannah” and the Pat Metheny Group classic “Phase Dance.”

The best moment of this portion of the show came when Metheny brought out his custom-made, 42-string Pikasso guitar for “The Sound of Water.” If you've never seen him play the Pikasso, this thing is straight out of Jimmy Page's dreams: Two necks, three sets of strings, and a sound like church bells playing in concert with a harp, a mandolin, and a harpsichord. Add the fact that Metheny banged it like a drum from time to time, and you have a one-man orchestra that will win over the hardest of hearts.

McBride and Sanchez came on at the end of “Water” and set up a foundation that helped Metheny transition from Pikasso to hollow-body electric, and from “Water” to “So May It Secretly Begin.” Wes Montgomery has always been at the base of Metheny's playing style, but now we heard it without the synthesized fripperies that (to my mind, anyway) has dominated the Metheny Group for far too long. That selfsame synthesizer reared its ugly sound during the rocking blues-waltz “When We Were Free”, drowning McBride's double bass out altogether. Apart from that cacophonous moment, though, the rest of the night was nothing but three guys playing their hearts out in fine Old School style.

McBride's made a name for himself as a leader these last few years, but he made his bones laying the floor for everyone from Chick Cores to Chris Botti. This show let McBride be both supporter and collaborator, and he seemed unconcerned that it wasn't his name on the marquee. His foundations shone through the guitar-heavy mix, and his bowing solo on Metheny's untitled Katrina tribute added soul to a wonderfully spiritual composition. McBride and Metheny got together for a duet version of “(Once I Had) A Secret Love” that was as traditional as it comes, and the result tickled them both.

Metheny did a duet with Sanchez, too, but it was as jammed-out and free-form as “Secret Love” was conventional. A longtime Metheny Group member, Sanchez may be the best drummer Metheny's ever had. Admittedly, that puts him on top of a list that includes Jack DeJohnette, Roy Haynes, and Bob Moses. Even so, the communication Metheny and Sanchez share really kicks this material up a few notches. Sanchez' accents on the new piece “Let's Move” show a terrific sense of nuance; this trait made his solos all the more sensational, and brought a third solo voice to an already-creative matrix.

While the Pat Metheny Group's early recordings will always have a place in my collection, the PMG's latest offerings pale in comparison to what Metheny's got going on with McBride and Sanchez. There's an element of challenge to this trio that I haven't heard from the Metheny Group in decades. If Day Trip even comes close to the intensity and creativity of this show, that disc will be on year-end Top Ten lists in very short order.

J HUNTER is a former announcer/producer for radio stations in the Capital Region and the Bay Area, including KSJS/San Jose (where he was Assistant Music Director/Jazz programming), Q104 WQBK/Albany, and WSSV/Saratoga. He has also written music and theatre reviews for the Glens Falls Chronicle. He currently resides in Clifton Park.