Pat Metheny: The Way Up is White


Pat Metheny is one of the most popular and highly acclaimed jazz musicians of the present day and is regarded as a master of electric guitar and jazz composition. Pat’s early breaks came under the leadership of Gary Burton, with whom he has periodically continued to perform. However, since 1977, assisted by his musical partners Lyle Mays and Steve Rodby, Pat has developed his own unique brand of jazz-fusion through his band, Pat Metheny Group, now the foremost jazz group in the world. As if that were not enough, Metheny has maintained a parallel career as a mainstream jazz artist and has played and recorded with most of the top jazz musicians. A consummate artist, Pat is noted for his dedication to music and his desire to add to the lasting legacy of jazz. As a result, he has been rewarded with more Grammys than any other jazz musician. This book focuses on Pat’s unique achievements through an examination of his recorded works.

Pat Metheny: The Way Up is White (2nd Edition) by Ken Trethewey

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The following is an extract from Pat Metheny: The Way Up is White (2nd Edition) by Ken Trethewey:

There are a number of basic ingredients to PMG jazz-fusion. First, there is a very strong emphasis on harmony and melody, and across the wide spectrum of possibilities, the compositions can take on any aspect of mood from the lightest to the darkest. Great importance is assigned to the creation of beauty through fine melody. Metheny and Mays are deeply committed to the creation of lasting works of art and a strong belief that beautiful harmonic and melodic constructions will outlive ugly ones. They have never shrunk from presenting the most avant-garde, as in for example, Offramp or Dismantling Utopia, usually in the context of a narrative rather than stand-alone abstraction. However, their preference always seems to be towards the glory of natural, exotic harmonies and melodies, rather than the unnatural. Songs such as If I Could from First Circle or Something to Remind You from We Live Here are typical of this. Pat’s greatest strength is his “magical” ability to create powerful melody. However, Pat is a weaker musician when he ventures into the soulless world of modal harmony. He is always more than competent, of course, but because he is a truly soulful musician, there is something missing from his playing when the musical environment does not allow communication to or from the innermost parts of the human psyche.

Second, is the crucial exploration of new rhythmic structures, gained from unusual time signatures, but always retaining the natural feel of a rhythm. John McLaughlin also realised the power of this from the start of his recording career on Extrapolation (1968) and extended it into extremely complex metres with the first three Mahavishnu Orchestra albums. Listeners to PMG are often aware that there is something special about the music but don’t necessarily realise how the effect has been achieved. The secret often lies in the unusual metric constructions they use. As with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, this has always been a key element of the PMG fusion and there are many examples, such as the main theme from Phase Dance from the ‘White’ album and 5-5-7 from Letter From Home.

Third is the use of new textures. Clearly, this was first to be obtained from Pat’s own main instrument, the guitar. He achieved this right from the beginning of his career and has continued to do so, not just on one guitar, but on many. Pat has been universally lauded for his contributions to the general art of the guitar. Many guitar sounds have been explored using both electronics and technique in combination. He has employed traditional guitar sounds as well as synthesised and rock sounds. Along with McLaughlin, he trail-blazed the use of the guitar synthesiser from the time of Offramp (1981), but where McLaughlin attracted criticism for failing to distinguish himself from a keyboard synthesiser, Pat retained the essence of guitar playing in his own use of the guitar synthesiser. He is quoted as saying that he considers each different synthesiser sound to be like playing a new instrument, and that he prefers to master the playing of one instrument before moving to another. [34] So successful has he been that for twenty years or more, he has been entirely identifiable as having his own ‘sound’.