Pat Metheny Group is a jazz fusion group founded in 1977. The core members of the group are guitarist, composer and bandleader Pat Metheny; and keyboardist and composer Lyle Mays, who was part of the group's inception in 1977. Other long-standing members include bassist and producer Steve Rodby who joined in 1981, and Paul Wertico, who was the group's drummer for 18 years from 1983 to 2001.
Founder Pat Metheny first emerged on the jazz scene in the mid-1970s with a pair of solo albums. First was Bright Size Life, released in 1976, a trio album with bass guitarist Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses. The next album, released in 1977, was Watercolors, featuring Eberhard Weber on bass, pianist Lyle Mays, and drummer Danny Gottlieb.
Despite the common description of Metheny's music as "fusion," it was always his intention to create improvised music that had a greater emphasis on bringing out harmony than anything common to what was called "fusion" of the time. Pastorius, with whom Metheny struck up a friendship while the two attended the University of Miami and later toured in Joni Mitchell's backing band during her transition from her earlier folk rock compositions to those with more jazz influence, had at the same time explored melodic lines for his instrument within the melodies normally heard, rather than just providing a simple bassline, revolutionizing the way the bass guitar was viewed by the musical establishment. The two friends would talk into the late evening during the early 1970s and discuss the new possibilities their instruments held.
At the same time, Jaco and I were both really on a mission to find a way to play and find a way to present our instruments in an improvisational environment that expressed our dissatisfaction with the status quo at the time.
In 1977, bassist Mark Egan joined Metheny, Mays, and Gottlieb to form the Pat Metheny Group. They released the self-titled album "Pat Metheny Group" in 1978 on the ECM label, which featured several songs co-written by Metheny and Mays. The group's second album, American Garage (1979), was a breakout hit, reaching #1 on the Billboard Jazz chart and crossing over to the pop charts as well, largely on the strength of the up-tempo opening track "(Cross the) Heartland" which would become a signature tune for the group. The group built upon its success with lengthy tours in the USA and Europe.
The group featured a unique sound, particularly due to Metheny's Gibson ES-175 guitar coupled to two digital delay units and Mays' Oberheim synthesizer and Yamaha Organ. The group played in a wide range of styles from experimental to grassroots music. Later on, Metheny began working with the Roland GR300 guitar synthesizer and a Synclavier System, while Mays expanded his setup with a Prophet 5 synthesizer designed by Sequential Circuits, and later with many other synthesizers.
The Pat Metheny Group released the album Offramp in 1982. Offramp marked the first recorded appearance of bassist Steve Rodby in the group (replacing Mark Egan), and also featured Brazilian "guest artist" Naná Vasconcelos. Vasconcelos had appeared on the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays album As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, and his performance on percussion and wordless vocals marked the first addition of Latin-South American music shadings to the Group's sound. Offramp was also the group's first recording to win a Grammy Award, the first win of many. for the group.
In 1983, a live album titled Travels was released. It won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Fusion Performance in 1984. 1984 brought the release of First Circle a popular album that featured compositions with mixed meters. With this album, the group had a new drummer, Paul Wertico (replacing Danny Gottlieb). A soundtrack album The Falcon and the Snowman followed in 1985. It featured the song "This Is Not America", a writing and performing collaboration with David Bowie which reached #14 in the British Top 40 and #32 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1985.
The South American influence would continue and intensify on First Circle with the addition of Argentine multi-instrumentalist Pedro Aznar. This period saw the commercial popularity of the band increase, especially thanks to the live recording Travels. First Circle would also be Metheny's last project with the ECM label; Metheny had been a key artist for ECM but left over conceptual disagreements with label founder Manfred Eicher.
The next three Pat Metheny Group releases would be based around a further intensification of the Brazilian rhythms first heard in the early '80s. Additional South American musicians appear as guests, notably Brazilian percussion player Armando Marcal. Still Life (Talking), (1987) was the Group's first release on new label, Geffen Records, and featured several tracks which have long been popular with the group's followers, and which are still in their setlist. In particular, the album's first tune, "Minuano (Six Eight)", represents a good example of the Pat Metheny group compositional style from this period: the track starts with a haunting minor section from Mays, lifts off in a typical Methenian jubilant major melody, leading to a Maysian metric and harmonically-modulated interlude, creating suspense which is finally resolved in the Methenian major theme. Another popular highlight was "Last Train Home", a rhythmically relentless piece evoking the American Midwest. The 1989 release Letter from Home continued this approach, with the South American influence becoming even more prevalent in its bossa nova and samba rhythms.
Metheny then again delved into adventurous solo and band projects, and four years went by before the release of the next record for the next Pat Metheny Group. This was a live set recorded in Europe entitled The Road to You, and it featured tracks from the two Geffen studio albums alongside new tunes. By this stage, the group had integrated new instrumentation and technologies into its sound, including Mays' addition of midi-controlled synthesized sounds to acoustic piano solos, accomplished via a pedal control.
Mays and Metheny refer to the following three Pat Metheny Group releases as the triptych: We Live Here in 1995, Quartet, 1996, and Imaginary Day in 1997. Moving away from the Latin style which had dominated the releases of the previous decade, these albums were the most wide-ranging and least commercial Group releases, including experimentations with hip-hop drum loops, free-form improvisation on acoustic instruments, and symphonic signatures, blues and sonata schemes.
After another hiatus, the Pat Metheny Group re-emerged in 2002 with the release Speaking of Now, marking another change in direction through the addition of younger musicians. Joining the core players (Metheny, Mays and Rodby), were drummer Antonio Sanchez from Mexico City, Vietnamese trumpet player Cuong Vu and bassist, vocalist, guitarist, and percussionist Richard Bona from Cameroon.
Following the group's 2002 tour, Bona left to concentrate on his solo career, but appeared as one of two guest artists (the other being mallet cymbalist Dave Samuels) on the group's latest release, 2005's The Way Up, together with a new group member: Swiss-American harmonica player Grégoire Maret. The Way Up is a large-scale concept record which consists of a single 68 minute-long piece (split into four sections only for CD navigation). Metheny has said that one of the inspirations for the labyrinthine piece was a reaction against a perceived trend for music requiring a short attention span and which lacks nuance and detail. Many of the textures in The Way Up are created from interlocking guitar lines --Steve Reich is credited on the CD as an inspiration, along with Eberhard Weber, and there are large open sections for solo improvisation and group interplay. On the group's 2005 tour (when its lineup was supplemented by Brazilian multi-instrumentalist Nando Lauria), The Way Up was played in its entirety as the first half of the concert. The final performance of the piece was at a free show for more than a hundred thousand people at the close of the 2005 Montreal Jazz Festival.
The Way Up was released through Nonesuch Records. It is planned that all of Metheny's Geffen and Warner Bros. Records albums are to be rereleased on the label.
The Pat Metheny Group played at the Blue Note Tokyo in January 2009 in its core quartet of Lyle Mays, Steve Rodby and Antonio Sanchez. This quartet version of the group later toured the jazz festivals of Europe in the summer of 2010 as part of the "Songbook Tour". These concerts featured music from all eras of the group but no new material.
Pat Metheny Guitars, guitar synthesizers,
Lyle Mays Piano, synthesizers,
Steve Rodby, since 1980 (Bass),
Antonio Sanchez, since 2002 (Drums, percussion),
Mark Egan, 1977-1980 (Bass),
Danny Gottlieb, 1977-1982 (Drums),
Nana Vasconcelos, 1981-1982, 1986 (Vocals, percussion),
Pedro Aznar, 1983-1985, 1989-1992 (Vocals, percussion, bass, guitars, saxophone),
Paul Wertico, 1983-2001 (Drums),
David Blamires, 1986-1988, 1992-1997 (Vocals, various instruments),
Mark Ledford, 1987-1988, 1992-1998 (Vocals, various instruments),
Armando Marçal, 1986-1996 (Percussion),
Jeff Haynes, 1997-1998 (Percussion, vocals, various instruments),
Phillip Hamilton, 1997-1998 (Vocals, various instruments),
Richard Bona, 2002-2005 (Percussion, vocals, electric bass, acoustic guitar),
Cuong Vu, 2002-2005 (Trumpet, vocals, percussion, guitar),
Grégoire Maret, 2005 (Harmonica, vocals, percussion),
Nando Lauria, 1988, 2005 (Guitar, Vocals, various percussion and instruments),
Faith Hendricksen, 1986-c. 1999 (Synclavier, backup vocals)
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