Pat Metheny Group Royal Festival Hall, London Nick Coleman
"The mool-tie instruhmennalists sing, play guitars and a thing that looks like a trumpet after a road accident"
Upstage on a pair of abutting verandas stand a percussionist and what Metheny describes as "these two amazing mool-tie instruhmennalists". Beneath them at pavement level are bassist Steve Rodby, drummer Paul Wertico, Pat himself and Lyle Mays, whose keyboards are built into a kerbside bookcase with real books in it. The mool-tie instruhmennalists sing, play guitars, percussion, accordion, marimba, trumpet and a thing that looks like a trumpet after a motoring accident. One of them whistles, too. Metheny himself plays a wide variety of guitars and guitar-synthesisers, most of which look like tea-trays and space-ships. The sense is that the whole world is just a great big jazz fusion band.
What Metheny is shooting at, however, is the reverse of that. His subtext is: this great big jazz fusion band is the world, and in it, if we listen, we will find all that heaven will allow. We Live Here, the new album, is an oblique statement of that theme. As sonic environments go, it's an expansive, cloud-soft skyscape against which references seed and multiply as widely as the grasses of the plain. It's a little bit funky, a little bit Latin, a little bit Wes Montgomery, a little bit Ennio Morricone meets Wayne Shorter at dawn on a thermal in the Grand Canyon. It's an immensely accommodating record.
Which makes the group's musical intensity all the more vexatious to those of us who choke in the air-conditioned climate of generic fusion. Metheny's music might lack grunt and pong, but it's as well-endowed with passion as the heartiest R&B. Furthermore, his audience is about as au fait as they come. They know their stuff. They are not lifestyle surfers. They nod sagely for the entire three hours, they rock backwards and forwards, they quietly gasp "YES!" at good bits and laugh when the bandleader earnestly introduces Steve Rodby as a man who enjoys "a deep personal relationship with his instrument". Their expectations of a concert like this are not predicated on what being there says about them but on what the musicians have to say.
So it's a major disappointment when, halfway through, the group stop luxuriating in their fluxious groove and go all prog-rock, with swivelling lights, drum solo, loud eruptions from Lyle Mays' book-shelf and a definite hint of dry-ice. This is depressing given that Metheny prefaced this episode with a exquisitely teased-out meditation on Jobim's "How Insensitive". Depressing and funny.
Still, the final hour sees some recompense with far-from-widdly versions of "Last Train Home" and "Are You Going With Me?", two of the most sumptuous tunes you could wish to hear and the closest Metheny comes to having greatest hits. The guitarist spends almost the whole of this period standing on one leg, his face screwed up, a diddy Dudley Moore in polished trainers playing jazz-rock space ship, the music lapping and sucking about him, the mool-tie instruhmennalists doing amazing things with their many instruments and the Brazilian percussionist playing a riotous timbale solo without moving his head. For a while we inhabit a world governed solely by connoisseurs and people who listen to music with their eyes shut.
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