The instantly recognizable signature sound, simultaneously soft and burnished, was fully developed. So were his compositions, refracting the melodic fluency of folk into something too interesting and asymmetric to be merely pretty. But it was his performance — impassioned, fearless and completely original —that was amazing.
The album that came out of that tour, “The Pat Metheny Group,” was his breakthrough; the next time the band came to Richmond it was to play to a packed theater. A quarter-century later the guitarist can be heard in projects ranging from cinematic tone poems to straight-ahead sessions, from feedback-drenched experiments to late-night solo guitar explorations. His earliest work seems to be a favorite of the Weather Channel, which uses its cheerful kinetic invention to enliven the static blue-screen local forecast.
In his returns to the area over the years, Metheny has performed with larger, more polished, produced and arranged incarnations of the Pat Metheny Group. While those performances are hugely popular, the Oct. 30 appearance will be a chance to see him in the looser, more intimate setting of a small group — especially one with players such as Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez.
“It’s an unbelievable band,” Metheny says. “It’s off-the-scale what they can do: standards, free, groove, ballads, playing loud or soft. They’re among the most versatile players of their generation — so accomplished, and so deep.”
McBride’s cross-genre virtuosity has become familiar to Richmond audiences through his artistic leadership of the Modlin Center summer jazz series. Sanchez is a thrilling drummer who built a stellar reputation playing with breakthrough Latin Jazz artists David Sanchez and Danillo Perez.
The Pat Metheny Trio clicked immediately. “We did a couple of shows in August,” Metheny says. “Afterwards I wrote a lot of new music, a whole new book for the trio.”
Keeping things fresh is essential for Metheny, who says he finds the usual jazz formula staid and predictable. “Why not have a serious presentation, more in the vernacular of the culture?” he asks. “Tell the audience ‘Strap yourself in, we’re going someplace different.’”
There are a lot of places to go. “For me music is one big thing,” he says. “I don’t divide it into zones; it’s all connected. My impulse as a player is driven by my taste as a fan; my compass is that what I like I think other people will like.”
What people like is changing. Capturing the attention span of a perpetually distracted, sound-bite culture long enough to deliver a unified vision is an increasing challenge. Digital technology both expands and atomizes music buyers’ options. “Things seem to be moving away from the hour-long set,” Metheny says. “People are more likely to get either a single tune or every note recorded in an entire life.”
“If you want to deliver something of lasting value,” he says, “you have to work harder, and think about how to present it.”
It’s difficult to conceive of a better way to present Metheny’s soaring invention than in the dynamic interaction of a trio. It’s impossible to imagine a better rhythm section to ground and propel the guitarist’s flights than McBride and Sanchez. All of the factors are aligned for an evening of lasting value. S
Pat Metheny Trio with Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez perform Thursday, Oct. 30, at 7:30 p.m. at University of Richmond’s Alice Jepson Theatre. Tickets are $28 adults, $26 seniors, $14 children and can be purchased at 289-8980 or at www.richmond.edu.
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