Metheny was the dominant jazz guitarist of the last two decades of the twentieth century; the winner of thirteen Grammy awards through 2000, he has enjoyed commercial success while never compromising his constantly evolving artistic vision. He was influential in freeing the guitar of the technical and stylistic limitations which kept it from becoming one of the genre’s leading solo instruments.
Emerging in the late 1970s, when fusion guitarists dominated the jazz field, Metheny has, from the start, embodied a blend of bop formalism and lyricism based on elements of contemporary pop music songcraft, including rich melodicism, harmonic sophistication, and country and rock embellishments. Working professionally in Kansas City by age sixteen, he was invited by vibist Gary Burton to teach at Boston’s Berklee College of Music and play in his band. His earliest solo albums—Bright Size Life (ECM; 1975) and Watercolors (ECM; 1977)—which teamed him with bassist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses, only hinted at his emerging talent.
Pat Metheny Group (ECM 1114; 1978; #123) signaled the beginning of the highly arranged, synthesizer-based quartet sound developed along with keyboardist Lyle Mays. Its breezy, engaging tone—which struck a responsive chord with the record-buying public—was continued with the solo outing, New Chautauqua (ECM 1131; 1979; #44), and collaborative efforts such as American Garage (ECM 1155; 1980; #53) and As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls (ECM 1190; 1981; #50). In contrast to the rock band format employed in these releases, Metheny also experimented with more traditional jazz approach; most notably, 80/81 (ECM 1180; 1980; #89), a wide-ranging set featuring bassist Charlie Haden, drummer Jack DeJohnette, and saxophonists Dewey Redman and Michael Brecker, and Song X (Geffen; 1986), with avant garde saxophonist Ornette Coleman.
Metheny continued to excel in new venues during the 1980s, supplying the soundtrack to John Schlesinger’s popular film, The Falcon and the Snowman (EMI America 17150; 1985; #54) and technological experimentation, including guitar effects and new instrument designs. He also explored world music, expanding his group to accommodate African-based polyrythms and sitting in on studio sessions by Brazilian singer/songwriter Milton Nascimento.
Metheny has consolidated his growth in the 1990s and beyond. The poetically reflective Beyond the Missouri Sky, A Map of the World (Verve 537130; 1997), another collaboration with Haden, represented a triumphant return to film scoring. On the other hand, albums like Question and Answer (Geffen 24293; 1990); #154, featuring bassist Dave Holland and drummer Roy Haynes, and Trio 99>00 (Warner Bros.; 2000), with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Bill Stewart, demonstrated his continued technical and improvisational prowess within a small jazz combo.
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