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When it comes to having masterful chops, a successful career and critical acclaim, only a handful of guitar players are three-for-three. None of them, however, are in the same league as Pat Metheny. Garnering 16 Grammys in a broad range of styles and formats, Metheny faces formidable expectations when he performs; yet the guitar virtuoso delivered the goods with his new trio at a recent show in Iowa City.
Opening with two acoustic solos, he displayed a tonal range that had those less familiar with his work wondering why the bass player was playing offstage. Metheny actually handled the bass lines himself via a baritone guitar, ably displaying its range with the ethereal fingerstyle of “Last Train Home” and the melodic strumming of “Song for the Boys.”
As if asked to define solo versatility before the rest of the trio even walked on stage, Metheny also showcased his nylon string chops on “Unrequited,” a song that walks the line between classical and Spanish guitar, and his ear for multi-layered orchestration with “The Sound of Water,” a song he played on his 42-string Pikasso guitar. The Pikasso is a Metheny-commissioned creation by Linda Manzer utilizing four necks and two sound holes. Baffling for anyone to see played – especially guitarists who think six strings are hard enough – Metheny’s Pikasso represents the kind of musical innovation that sets him apart.
Metheny’s current trio, consisting of Christian McBride on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums, handled a challenging sampling from the Metheny canon, including modern standards like “Sirabhorn,” from his first trio album in 1975, and newer songs like “Night Away,” from this year’s Metheny-Mehldau collaboration. They also played a number of songs from their new album, Day Trip, the trio’s first recording together, which will be released in January. Together, Metheny, McBride and Sanchez are a powerful force of jazz incorporating both precision and feel into every solo.
Once the trio were well into their groove for the night, the audience’s hardcore jazz aficionados were no longer anonymous. Sharing reactions to solos that ranged from thunderous applause to incredulous laughter, the interplay between the performers and a packed Hancher Auditorium came close to what you’d expect from an intimate jazz club. Metheny’s phrasing, with its constant runs and accidentals merging into layers of key changes, along with McBride’s quotes of other standards within his own baffling streaks across his upright’s fretboard, were complimented by Sanchez’ constant emphasis on the ‘and’ of the beat to create a trio sound that was as creative as it was solid. It’s hard to imagine Metheny isn’t on his way toward number 17 once Day Trip has a chance to resonate.
Photos: Andrea Shriver, Focus 360