Jazz: Rumble in the jungle

Goldie and Pat Metheny? An unlikely team, but it works.
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Indy Lifestyle Online
It seems, on the face of it, one of the most unlikely collaborations imaginable. In the red corner is Pat Metheny, the jazz guitar virtuoso and pioneer of electric fusion whose esteem among guitarists is such that they will dutifully book front row seats for his concerts night after night just for the chance of picking up a stray plectrum. Metheny is also a 43 year old mid-Western American with long frizzy hair and New Age leanings who likes to go jogging before gigs.

In the blue corner slouches Goldie, the ex-Wolverhampton reprobate turned king of drum- and-bass, who favours a dyed yellow crop and prefers to limber up by playing shoot'em up games on his Sony Play Station. Metheny is a master musician who has played with some of the most eminent jazz stars of the century, while Goldie doesn't know a crotchet from a quaver and puts all of his music together on computer. But now, in a most unusual creative marriage, the frizz and the crop have merged and Metheny and Goldie have become a partnership of sorts. Though they have yet to meet in person, they have nevertheless formed a mutual admiration society whose first product is a single, released this week, in which Goldie re-mixes a track from Metheny's album Imaginary Day. The favour will then be returned, when Metheny re-mixes tracks by Goldie.

The collaboration came to light when I interviewed Goldie about his new album, Saturnz Return, in February and asked him about the inspiration behind the "Mother", the hour-long track that forms one half of the 2- CD set. Was it true, I said, that he was influenced by Gorecki's Third Symphony, which his ex-girlfriend Bjork had played him? "I listened to a couple of his CDs and I did like him", Goldie said, suddenly going quiet and looking down at the floor as he spoke. "But there was always Lyle Mays [Metheny's keyboard player and musical partner for twenty years]. Pat Metheny's my hero, man. I've got so much from Metheny's music. I listened to Still Life in Miami, man, years ago. I must have bought that album about six times. I take everything in, you know? I am that black hole that sucks everything straight in. I've talked to him and Metheny's going to re-mix "Sea of Tears" from my first album, and I'm going to remix two tracks from his album."

For his part, Metheny first learned of Goldie's admiration from reading the papers. "I started hearing about him because he was always talking about us, and my girlfriend is a huge fan of drum-and-bass so she was really impressed," he says. "When I first heard him I could sort of see what he was attracted by in my music even though we were coming from completely opposite aesthetic viewpoints."

For Metheny, Goldie's lack of musical training is what sets them apart most of all. "He said to me 'I don't know about chords or notes', and his take on music is literally the very opposite of mine. Mine is to know as much about it as possible, while his is to come to it from the outside.

"I would encourage Goldie to learn about music. When I worked with Joni Mitchell, she said 'I don't want to know about chords', and on an aesthetic level I totally disagree with that. Goldie's got a real sense of harmony, and maybe he should take a year out to learn about it. If you can learn Spanish in a year you can certainly learn about harmony. The fundamentals of harmony, melody and rhythm haven't really changed from Bach to the Beatles. Their standards are incredibly high, but those are the standards to aspire to."

Like many jazz musicians, Metheny has a genuine interest in the rhythmic innovations of drum-and-bass. He also sees a direct line of descent from jazz, citing the experiments of bebop in general, and those of his regular drumming partner Roy Haynes in particular, as important precursors of the rattling machine-made beats of contemporary club sounds. "I like it because it's not repetitious", he says. "I've had my lifetime quota of fixed measures for rhythm sections in jazz and fusion, which have been going on for 40 years. That fast drum-and-bass zone is one of my favourite tempos, much faster than the basic dance groove in jazz. A lot of it sounds like Roy Haynes, and that's where it's coming from, that constant variation of the accents, that chatterbox factor in the groove. Roy Haynes is the father of that style, the bass and snare drum combination that he invented. You can hear it on his work on some of the later Charlie Parker records, and Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette are like later descendants of Roy. But now people are getting machines to do stuff that no one would be able to play in a million years, like 30-second fills of triplets, a totally hip sound."

When Goldie chose the track "Across The Sky" from Metheny's album Imaginary Day as the candidate for his remixes, the guitarist was puzzled. "I was curious about it, because it's a ballad", he says. "In the end it came out with that classic Goldie treatment." The single also sounds as though it may have fallen rather uncomfortably between two stools, but, as they say, drum-and-bass is the new jazz fusion, and what Metheny does with Goldie has yet to be heard. New Age jungle could even be on the cards, and the sight of Goldie jogging to the studio remains a distinct possibility. An exchange of hairstyles is, however, thought to be unlikely.

The Pat Metheny Group plays Shepherd's Bush Empire tonight, Saturday and Sunday. The Goldie remixes of 'Across The Sky' are available as a single on Warner Brothers.