Tag Archives: pat metheny

Pat Metheny’s ‘Hommage à Eberhard Weber’ Live at Detroit Jazz Festival


Pat Metheny‘s Hommage à Eberhard Weber received its North American debut Monday evening in the Motor City. The new work, a mixed-media tribute to the German bassist featuring big band and sampled video, closed out the 2015 Detroit Jazz Festival on the main stage. Hommage was premiered in Stuttgart, Germany in January 2015 at a concert honoring Weber, which he attended, and also serves as the title track of the upcoming ECM release due out this Friday 09.11.15.

Pat Metheny, particularly over the last decade or so, has been treating listeners to new sonic adventures, be it with his symphony-length The Way Up for the Pat Metheny Group, his orchestrion project (both solo or incorporated into the Unity Group), and now this inventive big band composition. Weber, who’s been unable to perform since a 2007 stroke, sounds and feels musically alive and well in this new work.

On a selfish note, I was happy to have Metheny bring the name, image, and sounds of Weber to the Detroit Jazz Festival, which is often North American-centric (understandably so, to a degree) and doesn’t often feature the Northern European jazz aesthetic. I made the trek with friend, collaborator, and fellow ECM fan Matt Borghi. (We recorded some pre- and post-show comments and discussion for a forthcoming episode of his Sound Traveler Podcast due out this week. Link here.)

The piece is unique and its performance was unlike anything I’ve seen in a jazz setting. Analogous attempts have been made in other styles, particularly in Zappa Plays Zappa, which has featured Dweezil Zappa playing transcriptions of his father’s guitar solos visually accompanied by projections of his father executing the original. But that’s in more of a reproductive, canonical context. In Hommage, Metheny uses samples of Weber’s unaccompanied improvised solos as launching pads for both composition and improvisation, resulting in an entirely new work. (Rather than an orchestration of Weber’s ideas or something else similarly derivative.) Metheny writes in the album’s liner notes:

It came to me that it would be interesting to take the idea of sampling one step further; to find video elements of Eberhard improvising and then reorganize, chop, mix and orchestrate elements of those performances together into a new composition with a large projection of the Eberhard moments that I chose filling a screen behind us as we performed. It seemed like a new way to compose for me that would almost take the form of visual sampling.

Reading about it and seeing footage – my photograph above or the official video trailer below – don’t quite do it justice, as this is a composition that is meant to be seen as well as heard. Reading the descriptions, I was intrigued going into the performance, but what I saw was much greater than the sum of its already impressive parts. Metheny was backed by the Detroit Jazz Festival Big Band (featuring regional heavies) and shared the spotlight with vibraphonist Gary Burton, drummer Danny Gottlieb, bassist Scott Colley, conductor Alan Broadbent, and of course the footage, spirit, and sound of bassist Eberhard Weber.

The work is largely in four sections:
I. Emerging from silence, winds, cymbals, guitar, and Weber build thick sonic textures and dense harmonies, giving way to Weber’s plucked solo ostinato. The big band is then off at a healthy moderato, with guitar and vibes taking the melodic and soloistic reins. Even when quicker and rhythmic, the winds offer more textural than melodic support here.
II. Some building arco passages then transition to a more burning section, led again by a plucked ostinato from Weber. Here Metheny takes us into more “big band-friendly” territory, offering ample room for Metheny to shred with his trademark affected tone — it’s almost Pat Metheny Group Big Band featuring Eberhard Weber. The band transitions out of this part with the instrumental sections rhythmically punctuating against one another, eventually blending into the more textural elements from the beginning.
III. Weber & co. then lead us into a folk-like romp, with Metheny quickly strumming on the hollow body a la 80/81‘s “Two Folk Songs.” Here, Scott Colley shines in the spotlight dueling in call-and-response fashion with a digital Weber. And, amazingly, like the rest of this piece, it works. It doesn’t feel forced or like the band is “playing to a track.” It all melds together into one cohesive unit. A frenetic drum solo by Gottlieb then leads us to the final chapter.
IV. Much like the beginning, the big band is more textural here, while Weber melodically solos atop. The digital Weber has acted more as musical director and bassist until this point, but he’s the featured soloist to close, which makes this Hommage a very fitting and tasteful tribute.

Metheny mentions in the liner notes that he hadn’t scored for big band in decades. Well, could’ve fooled me. It’s a very well-written work. Furthermore, I can’t express enough just how well all the parts come together. Seeing and hearing Weber within the piece really made him feel like a genuine part of the performance. Bravo to Pat Metheny on a job well done.

The soloists and ensemble gave a commanding and cohesive performance. I could be wrong, but it appeared as if there was a quick skip/glitch in the video feed near the transition from the first to the second sections, but everyone quickly adjusted and got back on the same page. Perhaps it wasn’t a glitch and there was just a natural hiccup to overcome in the Weber track; hard to tell. (Speaking from my own experiences performing the music of Jakob ter Veldhuis, I can attest to the difficulty of performing composed works with tape, particularly when the samples aren’t always “exact” in certain sections.) The mix itself was mediocre at best, but that had nothing to do with the performers nor the composition.*

I’m very glad I saw this piece live, the performance of which I’m sure will be a rarity going forward. I really hope ECM considers releasing a video of the Eberhard Weber tribute concert from Stuttgart in January so that more people will have an opportunity to see this work as well as hear it. But until then, check out the audio, and the rest of the concert (featuring a host of other musicians including Jan Garbarek) when it hits the shelves this Friday.

*Having seen many DJF concerts on that same stage, I’m surprised that the mix wasn’t MUCH better. Quest, a quartet, was much louder than this full ensemble, for instance.

[Photo by yours truly]

Pat Metheny Unity Group at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater

On Monday evening I was fortunate enough to see Pat Metheny‘s Unity Group at Ann Arbor’s Michigan Theater. I had originally waffled on whether or not to attend for various personal reasons – none of which were a lack of interest – but a last-minute invitation from my new friend (and longtime fellow tweeter) Mark Jacobson kept me from missing out on a top notch performance. (Thank you again, Mark!)

I’ve been a fan of Metheny’s for a number of years but I’m by no means a completist. (Although, everything I have of his I quite like.) His current ensemble, the Pat Metheny Unity Group, is the quintet incarnation of the four-piece Pat Metheny Unity Band, which I saw at the 2012 Detroit Jazz Festival. The Band consists of Metheny, saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist (and fellow Spartan) Ben Williams, and drummer Antonio Sanchez, with the Group adding multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Giulio Carmassi. 2012’s self-titled Pat Metheny Unity Band is a really solid and often hard-driving jazz quartet album, including a little orchestrion treatment here and there. The Group, however, which just released Kin, explores vastly more sonic terrain. What was a quartet is now a five-piece orchestra, with the orchestrion regularly and tastefully integrated, and Carmassi providing varying instruments and textures. (Full disclosure: I hadn’t yet picked up Kin despite my intending to, but I surely will after seeing Monday’s show.)

The Michigan Theater’s vibe had more in common with a rock show than jazz, between the orchestrion-adorned stage and Metheny’s ecstatic fans. Kicking off Monday’s 2h45m set was, as Metheny described, an “opening set” of just the quartet, which features Band tunes “Come and See,” “Roofdogs,” and “New Year.” Don’t let the “diminished” forces fool you, though, as it’s a burning quartet. Potter and Metheny are intense, melodic powerhouses, with Williams and Sanchez providing and nimble but deep and grooving pocket. After about 40 minutes, Metheny addressed the audience and welcomed Carmassi (on piano, vocals, and percussion) to the stage, at which point the Group launched Michigan Theater deep into the sonic cosmos for two hours of exploratory, psychadelic, and at times face-melting jams that transcended genre. The set largely featured material from the new album, and the quintet almost sounded like a completely different ensemble from the quartet. Kin‘s tunes are compositionally more complex than its predecessor (which featured a more “traditional” jazz approach of head-solo-head, etc.), with each piece traversing various themes and textures. Later on in the set, Metheny featured each of his sidemen via an extended duet. His show-stopping and jaw-dropping rendition of Trane’s “Countdown” with Chris Potter was one of the night’s highlights. Like the original Coltrane recording, they waited until the very end to tease the melody, with the preceding minutes causing this saxophonist – and likely all other musicians in attendance – to question his existence and purpose. The Group ended end their main set with a rockin’ “Have You Heard” (sounding great with the added saxophone) followed by a full-band encore “Are You Going With Me” and a solo acoustic encore of an improvised medley of various tunes including “Last Train Home.”

I may not be a Metheny expert, but I’m familiar with his various projects over the years. And, from what I do know, the current PMUG is a near ideal synthesis of Metheny’s catalogue. It not only features new compositions that can be held up to its predecessors, but the band’s intense live sound also includes hints of Pat Metheny Group (especially with the use of voice – one of my favorite Metheny qualities, actually – and thick orchestration) and the Orchestrion Project (though tastefully used as a means and not an end). Shame on me for almost missing out on such a tremendous show. If the Group ends up in your neck of the woods during this year’s mammoth tour, I highly recommend attending. Not to be missed.

Earnestness or Excuses? II

I’d like to continue exploring the topic of intention and reception. I ended my previous post on this topic referencing technical ability and execution. This was on my mind quite a bit a few weeks ago as I listened to Pat Metheny and Ornette Coleman‘s Song X: Twentieth Anniversary. I really enjoy that album, as I enjoy both Pat and Ornette separately, but I found myself still tuning out through Ornette Coleman’s violin solo in “Mob Job.” For the uninitiated, Coleman famously – infamously? – extended his free jazz (or harmolodic) approach beyond the saxophone, his instrument, and started incorporating trumpet and violin – instruments he couldn’t play. After years of this, he’s now labeled as a saxophonist, trumpeter, and violinist in many articles.

I could listen to Ornette’s sax playing all day long and really dig it, but there’s a part of me that can’t get past his taking up instruments and just making noise without any ability. While most lay listeners would probably just think it all sounds the same, I can’t get past it as a musician. (And no, it certainly does not sound the same.) For reference, here’s some footage of Coleman on violin, later switching to trumpet (it’s entertaining to see him adjust the violin’s fine tuning peg):

Now contrast that with his saxophone playing from the same concert (the first half of this video). I get behind this. It’s not just a sonic wash of ascending and descending passages:

Before going further, I should say that I don’t mean for this article to be an “attack” on Coleman. Far from it. (And what would he care, he’s accomplished far more in his career than I could hope to.) I do genuinely enjoy his music and greatly appreciate what he did for art. But this one aspect sticks in my craw and, more importantly, relates to the larger topic I started exploring here a few weeks back. In fact, many more offensive examples that I’ve seen in person come to mind, but Coleman’s perhaps the most well-known example I can think of for use here. I find myself really agreeing with Miles Davis on this point (from his autobiography):

For him – a sax player – to pick up a trumpet and violin like that and just think he can play them with no kind of training is disrespectful toward all those people who play them well. And then to sit up and pontificate about them when he doesn’t know what he’s talking about is not cool, man. But you know, music’s all just sounds anyway.[1. Miles Davis with Quincy Troupe, Miles: The Autobiography, (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1989), p. 250.]

I sympathize with both Miles’s disagreement but also his acknowledging the place of sound. If someone just wants a wash of ascending and descending lines, then who cares if they play the instrument well or not? I easily concede that point, as I get it from an artistic/theoretical perspective. What if a musicians just wants a bunch of squeaks and squawks on the saxophone? One could argue that it may be best for a non-saxophonist to produce such sounds. In fact, we can see this here in a live video of none other than Marilyn Manson in 2005:

Before too many of you raise your eyebrows and say that Mary (as I’ve called him since middle school) is just being obnoxious while Ornette is creating art, briefly consider a few things:
1. Yes, the saxophone was used to create noise. That was the intent.
2. This occurs at the end of the title song of 2003’s The Golden Age of Grotesque. That whole album (and tour and surrounding ethos) was not just about “the grotesque,” which is vague, but rather it drew heavily from German Kabarett, censorship (particularly the Degenerate Art exhibitions under the Third Reich), and minstrelsy. He then connected those themes with post-Columbine and post-9/11 American culture. (Manson’s no intellectual slouch…)[2. If you want to go deeper down this rabbit hole, I suggest this article that I recently came across when assembling some links for this post. Good stuff.]
3. Strictly focusing on saxophone, kudos to him for using a period-appropriate model. Sigurd Rascher would’ve been proud. 🙂
4. Outside of including “saxophone” under his name in the album’s liner notes, Mary isn’t referred to as a “saxophonist” in his articles or titles. He understands the context.
5. FYI: I didn’t go searching for an outrageous example saxophone squawks to be incendiary. The last time I saw Marilyn Manson in concert was on this tour in 2003, and I occasionally go back to that memory when thinking of this particular instrumental conundrum.

Context matters, of course. Because at the end of the day they’re two men making noise on instruments they can’t play.

Now of course there can be an intersection between the above two poles in which someone “makes noise” on his/her primary instrument that seems indiscernible from a novice. Some of Evan Parker‘s music comes to mind. In the below video, if you were to just watch the images without sound, one would think he’s just letting his fingers run wild. However, when you actually listen to his sounds, you hear incredible control of both tonguing, range, and contour. He manages polyphony all by himself. (I can be partial, though, because I’m a Parker fan.):

Also, Parker’s no one-trick pony. His playing on Boustrophedon and Composition/Improvisation No. 1, 2, & 3 is different, for example. As is his playing in the second video of this MTH-V post.

Whew. Well, that’s enough to chew on for now. I’ll definitely be returning to this topic. And, as I said in my last post in this series, these are real rough drafts. I’m just trying to collect my thoughts on this topic.