In ‘The Evening with Pat Metheny at the Flynn Center on October 2nd, the ambitious guitarist, composer and bandleader continued his near-two year-long collaboration with a quartet consisting of drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Linda May Han Oh and keyboardist Gwilym Simcock. In doing so, the Missouri native extended his history with the city of Burlington and this venerable venue, making it all the more appropriate the event began the new performing arts season in the Queen City.
Metheny and company made a previous stop in the Green Mountains in January of 2017 at the Barre Opera House and the continued, albeit intermittent, touring together in the interim, has further tightened its ensemble work and promoted more fluid improvisation. Transitions from Gwylim Simcock’s piano to Metheny’s guitar were as liquid as the guitarist’s fretboard work, while similar action in tandem with bassist Linda May Han Oh suggested the range of dynamism at this group’s command: the resonance of the piano was deeper than at the previous Vermont concert and the double bass filled the lower registers (not all of which, however, were readily apparent throughout the room, according to some expressions of dismay overheard as the near-capacity crowd departed).
Drummer nonpareil Antonio Sanchez was hardly left out of such mixes. In fact, during the course of the evening, it was common to see the Pat Metheny facing him, directly feeding off his energy, the two exchanging bursts of notes with nearly equivalent ingenuity and detail. Abbreviated percussion intervals, including the extended segment at the close of the formal set, contained rapid-fire fusillades around Sanchez’ kit and, as the sole deeply exploratory interval of this near two hours and a half, mirrored the band’s impromptu approach to this concert.
Rather than proceed from a designated setlist, Metheny took a more informal approach, vis a vis his rationale for this ongoing collaboration. As he explained near the middle of the set, the purpose was to rediscover some the older tunes in his canon in conjunction with his collaborators. But, not surprisingly, this approach compelled working from the ground up, so Metheny took the stage on his own with the forty-two string Pikasso guitar, before proceeding to the familiar crescendos of “Bright Size Life” and then on to what turned out to be a thoroughly exhaustive expedition into his past, freshened by his evolving relationships with this quartet.
The foursome offered more than a few numbers in short sharp takes, not just the heavily-rhythmic selections that occurred roughly an hour in, and while there was little free playing, suites of similarly-conceived tunes brought discernible momentum to the performance. And toward the end of the show proper, the duets between Metheny and each individual served an even more deliberate purpose: not only to allow for individual showcases of the players’ skills but also to offer vivid illustrations of how each simultaneously reflects and expand the leader’s own considerable musicianly virtues.
For instance, the assertive confidence Oh displayed all evening is the underpinning of Pat’s courageous willingness to continue to challenge himself some forty-plus years after he brought his first Group to the now-defunct Hunt’s club down Main Street from the Flynn Center. Playing “San Lorenzo” from that quartet’s eponymous album with the pianist stood as further evidence of the tune’s durable popularity—though it was only one number that got a rousing response from the near sold-out audience—but also allowed the two a chance to reinforce how Metheny so effortlessly turns melodic complexity simple and accessible. (As does Simcock when he has a chance stretches out).
The interaction with Antonio Sanchez that followed served to illustrate why the drummer/composer has been a part of virtually every Pat Metheny project (except solo efforts) since the two appeared in Johnson, Vermont in 2003 in support of The Way Up. The two not only regard each other as equals in terms of technique–a comparison not to take lightly since Metheny’s worked with the likes of John Zorn, Ornette Coleman and Charlie Haden—but also relish such back and forth as ripe opportunity to expand the dynamics of their playing; besides using his synthesizer guitar to emulate the timbre of a horn, the multi-Grammy award winner gets to absolutely shred with it at a cacophonous level (remember this is the man who made an album titled Zero Tolerance For Silence). It’s an altogether abandoned approach comparable to the drummer’s own whisper-to-a-scream traversal of his kit.
A second semi-acoustic solo spot on the Mainstage was something of a stream-of-consciousness foray (including “Oh Susanna”?) allowing the focus to appropriately return attention to the man of the evening. But it also allowed the audience remaining place (after a concerted exodus to the doors of more than a few) to compose themselves before clamoring for one more group appearance: with Oh on an electric bass, what followed constituted the group’s only flirtation with fusion this near-peak fall evening.
It was also a logical culmination of all that preceded it, a sequence of events that, from all appearances, satiated the weary but delighted musicians on the stage as much as those music lovers in their seats. It certainly made for yet another memorable tale of Burlington the likes of which Pat Metheny confessed he loves to share with family and bandmates.
Photos Courtesy Ross Mickel Bootleggers Beware