A fresh quartet playing lots of old repertoire, An evening with Pat Metheny proved to be old wine in new skins. At around two-and-a-half hours with no intermission, it was a long concert too – but then Metheny has a large vat to draw from. His first album, Bright Size Life (1976), was released before two of this band’s members were even born and the album’s eponymous track was one of many drawn from his extensive catalogue – one subtly promoted pre- and post-gig by a book of Metheny transcriptions available on the merchandise stand.
Metheny has always explored a wide palette of sounds and this gig was no exception. He opened with a solo on his custom-built forty-two-string Pikasso (sic) guitar, which produces shimmering sounds redolent of a zither. For the rest of the concert he alternated between acoustic and electric guitars with his two signature sounds: warm-bright jazz tone and a heavily processed synth timbre not far off an effects-drenched trumpet. His solo acoustic performances were generally delicate, nocturnal affairs. But as if to smash all expectations, it was on a semi-acoustic that he went into shrieking free-jazz mode: blues riffs so ferocious and crunchy they made me think of a bottle bank being emptied as he powered on top of Antonio Sánchez’s muscular drum contribution for a duo of orgiastic intensity.
Sánchez has played with Metheny since 2000 but the other two joined only last year. Considering the newness of the band the musicians meshed beautifully. The only exception was early on when Metheny’s intricately wrought soloing and Sánchez’s energetic drumming left Gwilym Simcock little space for anything more than dabbing in a few background chords. One example was ‘The Red One’, originally performed with fellow-guitarist Jon Scofield and with a catchy riff so custom-built for rock/funk-inspired guitar it’s hard to imagine what a pianist could possibly have added.
Linda May Han Oh was a revelation: lyrical, melodic, gently swaying her head as she kept a fluid pulse behind even the trickiest tunes. Simcock, the first BBC New Generation Artist from a jazz background, is equally adept at classical music, and his pristine phrasing and strong melodicism created a beautiful counterfoil to Metheny’s guitar in a duo of great delicacy.
Of course it was Metheny’s show and the first encore was an acoustic solo medley of his hits, including ‘James’ from the 1982 album Offramp and ‘Last Train Home’ from 1987’s Still Life (Talking) – both Grammy winners for best jazz-fusion performance. Finally, a barnstorming version of ‘Song for Bilbao’ – a staple of the Pat Metheny Group – that left fans whooping with joy and up on their feet for a second ovation.