CD review: Pat Metheny

patTap: John Zorn’s Book Of Angels Vol.20
(Nonesuch/Tzadik 7559-79587-5)

The bad news is that Pat Metheny has not said goodbye to his orchestrion, the big instrumental machine that enables him to be an orchestra in real time, and that this is very nearly another solo record. The good news is that he is also creating interesting sound combinations of acoustic and electronic sources, that he has drummer Antonio Sanchez for company some of the time, and that he has chosen to rework the music of John Zorn.

Zorn’s Book Of Angels consists of 300 songs Zorn composed over just three months and they form Book Two of his Masada collection, inspired by traditional Jewish music. Metheny has chosen six to which he applies his myriad instrumental skills.

He recorded them in his home studio in between touring his Quartet, and in addition to the orchestrion, he plays all manner of guitars, sitar, tiples, bass, keyboards, bandoneon, percussion and even flugelhorn.

The current Pat Metheny band

The current Pat Metheny band

There is his by-now signature sound of synth guitar which he uses for those soaring solos, here over richly textured drums and other sounds – it’s as if half a dozen Lyle Mays were exploring their samplers, though in this case it could be an actual instrument with Metheny’s fingers on it, or it could be a machine triggered by his guitar or his cursor. Or, for all we know, he might be triggering them by pure thought – I mean, it’s only a matter of time.

If, for a moment, we ignore the medium entirely and just consider the message, then we can conclude that there is much sumptuous aural delight to be had from Tap. It’s at its best when Metheny works in the ugly electronic distortions among the pure acoustic timbres, or adds unexpected background textures as he does on the 10-minute Phanuel. And Hurmiz finds him on keyboards finally getting into fullly engaged mode with Sanchez.

But even here it doesn’t quite have the depth that would bring total satisfaction and equally deep rewards. It all feels a little superficial – a kind of pretty exotic instrumental tourism – partially saved by the strength of Zorn’s melodies.

And I think that it feels superficial because it is Metheny playing with his toys in near solitude once more. If there was real human exchange going on in the room, then music of more profound human emotions, art that conveyed the essence of being might be possible.

Think back to that duo album he made with Charlie Haden all those years ago: Beyond The Missouri Sky. Listen to Pat and Charlie’s intimate exchange on Jimmy Webb’s The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. It’s such a pretty tune but the pair bring out such a deeper feeling from it, and they do it by keeping things simple, by not getting too fancy. It makes you hold your breath, it makes you stop and think and feel. Do you get anything like that, when you listen to Tap? Not really. It’s very pleasant is what it is.

I think Pat needs to get together again with some really profound cats – Pat and Ornette again? Pat and Charlie again? Or how about Pat and Wayne? Pat and Chick? Pat and Sonny? The man needs a challenge and his toys aren’t giving him that.

Categories: CD review

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