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Pat Metheny – Finding And Believing (90s – 98)

April 23, 2010

Don’t laugh. Actually, Metheny-bashing was a something I only cottoned onto much later, and didn’t understand for years after that. This was because the first albums I heard of Metheny were his more interesting stuff: his early ECM sessions, Song X (with Ornette Coleman), and the symphonic Secret Story, from whence came this track. In fact “Finding and Believing” was the second track of Metheny’s I’d ever heard, and it was utterly bonkers.

Most of Secret Story isn’t bonkers. In fact, most tracks veer between beautiful and beige wallpaper, but I wouldn’t know this for another five years. When the album was released in 1992 I heard selected tracks on the veritable Sue Howard program on Classic FM. And she only played the bonkers ones.

“Finding and Believing” still holds its own in the bonkers department. I’d never heard anything like it in my life: shamanic chanting, weird twangy instruments; then suddenly dramatic, moody strings (of the London Symphony Orchestra) with added helicopter noise, before everything breaks down some nifty jazz piano riffs complete with more chanting. Metheny’s guitar solo doesn’t start until almost the end of the ten odd minutes. It is a careering, charging ride to who knows where. It is immense.

The result was I captured an image of Metheny as a madcap professor of music, someone willing to smash genres together to create a great, well, story. And over the years my subsequent listening bore this image out: the epic As Falls Wichita album; the even more bonkers free jazz of Song X; and the Vasconcelos-era Pat Metheny Group. But then I bumped into his late 80s Latinised albums, and his “straight” collaborations with the likes of John Scofield and Marc Johnston. And what I heard was a less madcap guitarist, politely soloing away with the most boring guitar synth sound I’d ever heard. It was then I understood what the Metheny debate was about. Compared to, say, the continual edginess of a Schofield solo, Metheny’s guitar synth was as energetic as linoleum.

Of course, Metheny was never continually bad: he has always been too fidgety for that. And even his “straight” playing could be beautiful if he ditched the synth. But Metheny always seemed determined to alternate his experimental side with something worse than safe – something over-familiar, which for me makes the worst kind of jazz.

In 1992, almost thankfully, this revelation would be far into my future. Because at the time I heard something majestic; something bonkers; which lead me to realise jazz could be a very strange place indeed.

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