Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: Pat Metheny's Enigmatic Acoustic Work

by Dale Turner
Posted Aug 13, 2015 at 4:40pm

Pat Metheny mastered jazz at an uncommonly young age, touring with legendary vibraphonist Gary Burton while still in his teens. Time spent as a student (and quickly, instructor) at the University of Miami led to many collaborations with bass icon Jaco Pastorius.

By the 1975 recording of his solo debut, Bright Size Life, Metheny’s signature modern jazz guitar style—characterized by slippery, horn-like legato phrasing and finger slides, crafty use of chromatics, unpredictable, syncopated rhythms, broad dynamic range and superb tone—was already honed.

For 40 years, Metheny’s musical path continuously evolved, embracing acoustic, electronic and symphonic sounds, pitting him alongside disparate luminaries like David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Ornette Coleman, Steve Reich, Bruce Hornsby, Carlos Santana and Herbie Hancock.

Pat’s pioneering use of guitar synths, such as the Synclavier (early digital sampler/workstation), unusual “harp” guitars (including a 42-string Pikasso) and the Orchestrion (a player-piano-inspired robotic mini orchestra controlled by guitar) puts him in a league of his own. Today, with 20 Grammy Awards (in 10 different categories) among his numerous accolades, we celebrate Pat Metheny with a lesson examining his acoustic output.

After his Bright Size Life and Watercolors albums, the Pat Metheny Group, featuring Lyle Mays (piano/synth), Mark Egan (bass) and Danny Gottlieb (drums), was formed, issuing their self-tilted debut in 1978. “Phase Dance,” propelled by a Latin-flavored acoustic picking riff akin to FIGURE 1, contributed much to PMG’s success.

The tune has since become a concert-opening Metheny standard. Pat employed “Nashville tuning” for this song, replacing the guitar’s lowest four strings with much thinner strings tuned one octave higher, like the additional “small strings” on a 12-string guitar.

In 1979, Metheny released the solo album New Chautauqua, which features the master musician wielding a host of stringed instruments (all elaborately overdubbed), including a 15-string harp guitar. Standout tracks include Nashville-tuned nuggets like “Country Poem” and “Sueno Con Mexico,” along with conventional acoustic pieces like “Heritage,” its fingerpicked, low-register chords informing FIGURE 2.

Metheny and Mays combined forces in 1981 for the duo project, As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, which also features vocalist/percussionist Nana Vasconcelos. The composition “September Fifteenth” was penned for that album in honor of the late jazz pianist Bill Evans, deceased on that date the previous year; the track features unpredictable harmonic shifts and lush voicings like those in FIGURE 3.

First Circle marked a huge leap forward for the Pat Metheny Group, its deep musical explorations, top-notch performances and stellar production netting 1985’s Best Jazz Fusion Performance Grammy. The Group’s core lineup would remain unchanged for 15 years, paving the way for future successes like Still Life (Talking) and Letter from Home.

FIGURE 4 illustrates a variation on Metheny’s oddly grouped arpeggios heard midway through the latter album’s title track.

For 2003’s One Quiet Night, Metheny rolled tape in his home studio and cut a handful of beautiful solo acoustic arrangements—songs like the Norah Jones hit “I Don’t Know Why,” along with some originals—on his Linda Manzer baritone acoustic [standard tuning, down a perfect fifth (A D G C E A), with the middle two strings tuned up one octave]. FIGURE 5 is a nod to his solo rendition of “Last Train Home,” a classic Metheny instrumental first released on Still Life (Talking).




Screen shot 2015-08-13 at 2.15.00 PM.png
Screen shot 2015-08-13 at 2.15.14 PM.png


Add a Comment
0 Comments

Similar Guitar News

Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Surreal Soundscapes of Singer-Songwriter and Visual Artist Joseph Arthur (7/16/2015)
A rare, personal anecdote: Back in 2000, in Los Angeles’ Conga Room, as a guest of a Virgin Records publicist, I had my mind blown by my friend’s new client, singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur. Performing solo and armed with only an acoustic guita...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Soulful Acoustic Work of Warren Haynes (10/7/2015)
Warren Haynes—the eclectic electric-guitar ace behind Gov’t Mule and longtime Allman Brothers Band member and touring guitarist for the Dead—is no stranger to Guitar World readers. His virtuosic, polished blues-rock playing owes just as much to...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Inimitable, Soulful Guitar Style of Joseph Spence (6/22/2015)
What happens when you mix bluesy, Robert Johnson–style fingerpicking and tropical “Calypso” grooves, with repertoire consisting of spiritual hymns and sea shanties (maritime work songs, akin to your Pirates of the Caribbean soundtrack faves), su...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The "Folk Baroque" Stylings of John Renborun (5/20/2015)
On March 26, 2015, the guitar community lost a legend: progressive folk master and founding member of Pentangle, John Renbourn, a picker who literally did what he loved—playing and teaching—up until the end. (When Renbourn didn’t appear at a con...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: Harnessing a Capo’s Unique, Sparkling Magic (9/11/2015)
A “capo”—short for capotasto, which means “principal fret” in Italian—is a device used to shorten the vibrating lengths of a guitar’s strings; when fitted behind a given fret, it stops the strings at that point, as if you were barring a finger a...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Deft Fingerpicking and Odd-Tuning Riffage of Stephen Stills (4/21/2015)
Stephen Stills’ status as a rock legend stems just as much from his singing and songwriting contributions in Buffalo Springfield, Crosby, Stills & Nash (and Young) and his own solo work as it does from his innovative acoustic and electric gu...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Dazzling, Altered-Tuned Fingerstyle Work of Laurence Juber (3/25/2015)
These videos and audio files are bonus content related to the May 2015 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now or at the Guitar World Online Store. When Paul McCar...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Complex and Groovy Fingerpicking of Guitarist/Actor Jerry Reed (3/2/2015)
These videos and audio files are bonus content related to the April 2015 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now or at the Guitar World Online Store. Jerry Reed (1...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Essential Acoustic Cuts of Yusuf Islam, a.k.a. Cat Stevens (1/30/2015)
These videos and audio files are bonus content related to the March 2015 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now or at the Guitar World Online Store. Born Steven D...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Sullen Guitar Sounds of Damien Rice (1/4/2015)
These videos and audio files are bonus content related to the February 2015 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now or at the Guitar World Online Store. It has bee...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Celebrated “Harp Harmonics” Technique of Eclectic Guitar Genius Lenny Breau (12/5/2014)
These videos and audio files are bonus content related to the January 2015 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now or at the Guitar World Online Store. Though the ...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Influential Percussive Playing Style of Preston Reed (11/4/2014)
These videos and audio files are bonus content related to the Holiday 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now or at the Guitar World Online Store. Preston Ree...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Simple But Effective Acoustic Inventions of Beck Hansen (10/7/2014)
These videos and audio files are bonus content related to the December 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now or at the Guitar World Online Store. While Beck...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: Phil Keaggy’s Multifaceted Acoustic Fingerstyle Approaches (9/9/2014)
These videos and audio files are bonus content related to the November 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now or at the Guitar World Online Store. Guitarist ...
Acoustic Nation with Dale Turner: The Picking Prowess of John McLaughlin (8/13/2014)
These videos and audio files are bonus content related to the October 2014 issue of Guitar World. For the full range of interviews, features, tabs and more, pick up the new issue on newsstands now or at the Guitar World Online Store. In the mid-...