Notes for ECM :rarum IX
Pat Metheny’s notes for the 2004 ECM :rarum IX
“Bright Size Life” (Bright Size Life 1975)
When the idea first came up for me to make a record for ECM in early 1974, I was very lucky to be around Gary Burton, whose band I just about to join. Gary encouraged me in every possible way, but also suggested that I take my time to think about the importance of a debut record and to really consider exactly what kind of a statement I wanted to make. With the possibility of recording for one of the most exciting and interesting record labels to emerge in many years right in front of me, the idea of trying to do it as soon as possible was almost overwhelming.
But like usual, Gary was right. I spent the next year and a half writing and thinking and trying to clarify a concept of what kind of things I really felt strongly about as a musician, especially in the areas of composition and improvisation. There was a way that I wanted to improvise that I was unable to do on the forms of the standards and blues pieces that I had grown up playing around Kansas City, and I also knew that I wanted to try to develop mostly original music since it occurred to me that this might be the only chance I would ever get to make my own record.
Through a series of encouraging letters from producer Manfred Eicher who had lots of suggestions about who I might use as other players and what kind of settings he imagined me playing in, I finally proposed the idea of using two musicians that I had been playing with a lot, bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses.
We had been playing gigs together as a trio regularly around the east coast for a few years by that time. I had known Jaco since 1972 and he and I had had a great rapport as musicians and friends right from the start. We both were interested in expanding the roles of our respective instruments from within the larger jazz tradition and were inspired by many of the same people - and I would say that we were both quite restless in our general pursuit of music. Moses, being 7 or 8 years older than we were (I was 18 and Jaco was 21 when we did our first trio playing together) was much more experienced than either one of us, and we both loved playing with him.
The recording in Ludwigsburg, Germany took place in December of 1975. I will never forget hanging out with Jaco at the Zeppelin Hotel in nearby Stuttgart when he arrived from the airport the night before the session - it was Jaco’s first trip ever to Europe. I had been recording all day the day before (making what became Gary’s record “Dreams So Real”) and we were both pretty excited about getting to finally record the thing that we had been developing through playing together so much. The session went really fast and it seemed like it was over before any of us knew what hit us.
It is interesting how the perception of this record has changed over the years. The first few years or so it was out, it seemed like it was one thing, but as time has passed, it almost seems like people talk about that record more and more. I always wished I had played better on that day we recorded, but somehow I think we did capture something about where we were and what we were aspiring to become as musicians at that moment in time.
“Phase Dance” (Pat Metheny Group 1978)
The group began In May of 1977. I had met Lyle Mays at a jazz festival In Wichita, Kansas in 1976 when I was performing with Gary there and Lyle was playing in a student ensemble from North Texas State University. It hit me instantly when I heard him that there was a good chance we could play well together. Until that point in time, I had never heard anyone around my own age who seemed to have the same interests in music with so many of the same influences. When we finally did our first gigs together a few months later (with Steve Swallow and Danny Gottlieb in June of that same year in Boston) it turned out to be true - I had never felt a connection with any piano player remotely like that. There was a natural blend between us that continues to this day. When the time came for me to start my own band, the first person I called was Lyle. We toured continuously for almost a year before we made this first recording as a group, and Phase Dance was one of the pieces that we played every night.
The central ideas of what kind of a group I had always hoped to have are in evidence here. We were quite reactionary to what they now call the “fusion” music of the time. I had the feeling that there were potentials in the juxtaposition of acoustic and electric elements that were barely being addressed in jazz, particularly in the area of dynamics and orchestration. Using additional guitars as textural components, often in unusual tunings as on this piece, and trying to find simple elements to expand the orchestrational potential of a quartet such as the use of a tuned autoharp here, were all part of our early thing. The rhythm section style was also important - the time most often coming from the ride cymbal and the flexibility and looseness of a jazz rhythm section combined with even eighth note grooves fit well with the conception of improvising that the band was about.
This piece began as something I wrote for a gig with my brother Mike for a little club gig that he and I did in Boston, then Gary’s band played it for the last few months I was in the band, but when Lyle and I played it together and expanded it to the arrangement heard on this recording, it had a new life.
“New Chautuaqua” (New Chautauqua 1978)
In 1978, at the end of a 3 month tour In Europe, I stayed in Munich for a few weeks to write the music for this solo record. I was really missing the States, it had been a long tour and a long time away from home, and I have often found that my perspective on America and the feelings and memories carried with me from growing up in a somewhat rural midwestern town tend to blossom during extended stays abroad.
My great-grandfather was Moses Metheny who was, among other things, a musician who traveled around the U.S. during the late 1800’s as a member of the performing Chautauqua troupe. My grandfather (Harrison Metheny) was in his 90’s around the time of this recording and had told me about his dad and had compared what I was doing (touring constantly) to what his dad used to do, calling my traveling thing the “new Chautauqua” which I thought was pretty cool - hence the inspiration for this song and the title.
This was the first time that I overtly tried to investigate the zone where I, like most other fledgling guitarists, began - rhythmic strumming. Oddly, this type of playing had rarely been used in a jazz setting and is in my opinion one of the things that the instrument is really good at.
This record was the first time I consciously tried to evoke the literal sounds that I remember growing up with in Missouri. I had always welcomed the influence that had crept into my jazz playing that I could attribute philosophically or aesthetically to having grown up out there, but this was different. By strumming open chords and really embracing the guitaristic qualities that I had generally associated with country and folk music, a new way of thinking and playing opened up.
“Airstream” (AmerIcan Garage 1979)
This record was made in the midst of what became a tour that essentially lasted from May of 1977 until August of 1980. During this period we worked pretty much all the time, driving around in vans all over North America and Europe, playing basically any place that would have us, trying to find our sound. This recording was the first time that we got to record in America (instead of Europe) on our own and we were very happy about that.
Our band has always been comfortable addressing a way of playing that goes right at the elements of the parallel popular culture that surrounds us, reinterpreting it through the window of our own interests and perspectives. This piece, like several other subsequent ones in our later development, draws from what we were hearing around us at the time, particularly in the way that more advanced harmony was beginning to find its way into the pop music of the time. This piece was one that I was particularly fond of at the time it was written and we still occasionally play it.
One of the areas of interest from the beginning for the Group was to try to write pieces that took advantage of the unique components of the quartet, while especially trying to come up with things that went beyond conventional song forms. By including written interludes, modulations and development sections and trying to develop solo structures that drew from the basic material without necessarily being totally loyal to what occurred under the original melody, we were working to subtly expand our range and the environments that we could function in as improvisers.
“Everyday (I Thank You)” (80/81 1980)
Somewhere around in here it occurred to me that I had made four or five records and was so concerned with developing a band and a way of thinking and playing that was attempting to offer alternative views to the implications of the larger jazz tradition that I had somewhat neglected to address in a recording environment the music that I had played the most and longest in its more conventional setting.
I had always loved the playing of both Charlie Haden and Dewey Redman and had gotten to know both of them from the days when I was playing with Gary Burton and they were playing with Keith Jarrett and the two bands would occasionally do gigs together around the States. I had recently met and played with the amazingly gifted Mike Brecker who seemed to be an underutilized musical force at that time, and I had known Jack Dejohnette for a few years by then and had always hoped to do something with him.
Jack and Charlie had never played together before this session, nor had Dewey and Mike, but part of the idea was to set up these new connections between people who were real favorites to me and to see if what I thought could happen between all of us might work.
This piece “Everyday (I Thank You)” was written for this session in a hotel room in Bremen, Germany late one night after a gig. Mike Brecker has often talked about how he felt this record was a turning point for him, that he discovered something on this date about the way he played that affected things that he did later. To me, this is one of his finest recordings and the way he played this piece was really special and beyond anything I had hoped for. Charlie and Jack proved to be a magic combination, later utilized as a rhythm section by lots of people. And this record began a recording association and a deepened friendship between Charlie and I that has proven to be one of the most important relationships in my life. And one the best parts of this date was how much fun we all had making it - it was probably the most pleasant experience of all of the recording sessions I had during the ECM days.
“It’s For You ” (from As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls) 1980
By the summer of 1980, it was clear that it was time for a change in the lineup of the Group. The rapport between Lyle and I had continued to deepen on a playing level, and compositionally and conceptually we were really starting to let our imaginations go way beyond what the traditional jazz quartet format seemed to imply. This recording offered an opportunity to focus on and explore those areas using the studio itself as a major element in the process and result. Also, right around this time the technology available to us via the use of synthesizers was making huge strides in terms of usability and functionality and it seemed that hardly anyone in jazz (with the huge exception of Weather Report) was taking advantage of the orchestrational potential of what these new instruments implied.
This piece is actually built on the very first thing that Lyle and I wrote together, in the back room of a music store in Orlando, Florida while on a short tour playing behind singer Marlena Shaw, but we had never found a way of successfully playing it in the group setting. I had met Nana Vasconcelos a month before during our first trip to Brazil (he introduced himself to me by coming up to me and singing the hook of “Airstream” into my ear and running away, laughing hysterically) and it seemed like as we were getting more and more involved in the electronic aspect of things that his more earthy approach to sound could provide a needed balance to where we were headed - plus, he was an interesting vocalist, an element that makes its first appearance in our thing on this track and has remained ever since.
One funny thing about this session. The assigned location for this recording was in Oslo, Norway, which meant that we had to fly from Boston (where we were based at the time) to London, and then London to Oslo. When we arrived in London, there was a huge strike going on by the guys who move the bags from plane to plane at Heathrow. We HAD to make the connection - so somehow, Lyle and I found ourselves inside the cargo bin of the jet that brought us from Boston, getting all our stuff out, then wheeling it all down the tarmac (an active runway) to the next terminal to get it on the SAS flight to Oslo. It was the only way that that record was going to get made. We still laugh about that one.
“Are You Going With Me” (from Travels) 1982
This tune is a special one. The original recording of it appears on the record “Offramp”, but there were so many new elements introduced on that record (the guitar synth, the Synclavier, a dedicated percussionist (Nana), a fantastic new bassist in the band (Steve Rodby) who was as equally at home on acoustic bass as electric, etc.) that it seemed to take a few months of playing that music live on the road for it to evolve to the point that is finally realized here in this live recording.
The arrival of the guitar synth (a Roland GR-300, not as commonly misstated, the Synclavier guitar) was like getting a ticket to another musical planet for me. Suddenly I could play things that I had always heard in my head that had eluded me on a conventional guitar. This piece became a kind of vehicle for that axe that continues to fascinate me even now, 20 some years later.
This would certainly be our most requested tune and I bet I have received hundreds of messages, notes, and letters of various sorts over the years from people who have a special feeling for this tune and what it means to them. Me, I think I could play this tune 24 hours a day and never get tired of playing it, it always feels endless to me. It was written in almost exactly the time it takes to play it, it just kind of showed up one hot summer day as I was sitting around trying to write something.
This version comes from a club date that we did in Philadelphia, maybe the city in the U.S. that has been most consistently supportive of our thing right from the beginning and one of the best audiences in the world.
“First Circle” (from First Circle) 1984
This record marked the beginning of a new era for the band. With a great new drummer (Paul Wertico) and the astonishing talent of Pedro Aznar, we suddenly became the band I always had hoped we might become. This lineup began its run with a 14 week tour of Europe that galvanized the band in a way that nothing like playing a lot of gigs on the road ever will. We were able to discover the potential of what Paul and Steve could do as a rhythm section and for the first time we had a fifth member of the group that could contribute such varied and different things to our sound - Pedro was also a great guitarist and percussionist in addition to being one of the most amazing singers I had ever heard.
I had recently become fascinated with the idea of mixed meters and this piece is partially built on the result of that interest. The basic rhythmic pattern is 3-2-3-2-2-3-3-2-2 but is mixed with occasional phrases in 4/4 and 3/4.
However, this song wound up being about so much more than the details of its construction. Like “Are You Going With Me”, this is a tune that somehow distilled the mission of the group in a new way that opened up a whole uncharted world for us in terms of potential scale and the manifestation into sound of whatever that elusive thing is that we have been working to get out since the beginning. Since the time of this original recording, we must have played this piece a thousand times live all over the world. It never fails to offer us (and hopefully the audiences that hear it) a special feeling that is quite unlike anything else in our book.
“Lonely Woman” (from Rejoicing) 1985
This trio began in 1982 with a casual unannounced gig in Los Angeles at a small club. From the first notes we played together, it was clear that something special could happen with the three of us. By that time, Charlie and I had played a lot together, mostly in the 80/81 band that toured for about a year after that record was released, with Paul Motian sitting in for Jack Dejohnette who was busy with his own band for most of that time. I had always loved Billy Higgins’ playing, and the prospect of developing a band based on one of my all time favorite rhythm section combinations was really exciting.
As was most often the case during this period, I really wanted us to play together as a band, playing the music we would record on tour for a period of time before we recorded. This track, “Lonely Woman”, the beautiful and rarely played Horace Silver ballad that is found as a trio track at the end of his most well known album, “Song For My Father” was a staple in all of our live performances as a trio.
Playing with Charlie and Billy live most every night for the year that followed the release of this album remains one of the most fun periods of my life as a musician. Every night was beautiful and the joy of being around Billy Higgins on a regular basis during that time was fully rewarding in so many ways.
I would like to thank Manfred Eicher and everyone at ECM for the opportunity to make and present these recordings. I would also like to add a personal note of appreciation to Robert Hurwitz, Hans Wendl and Thomas Stowsand.