by Ian Mann
November 16, 2021
Metheny’s legion of fans will lap this up, but with its elements of jazz, blues and rock there’s plenty here for the more casual observer to enjoy too.
“Side Eye NYC V1.1V”
(Modern Recordings 538693922)
Pat Metheny – guitars, guitar bass, orchestrionics, James Francies – organ, piano, synths,
Marcus Gilmore – drums
Side Eye is the latest project from the American guitarist and composer Pat Metheny, a musician who is currently surfing a wave of intense creativity despite now being well into his sixties – it hardly seems possible does it?
This is Metheny’s second album for his new label, Modern Recordings, and follows “Road To The Sun” (2021), an album of classical guitar pieces written by Metheny and performed by Jason Vieaux and by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. Review here;
Prior to this Metheny had signed off from his contract with Nonesuch Records on a high with the award winning “From This Place” (2020), recorded with a quartet featuring his long time drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Linda May Han Oh and British pianist Gwilym Simcock. This was arguably Metheny’s most ambitious album to date and included orchestral arrangements variously written by Metheny, Alan Broadbent and Gil Goldstein and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra under the baton of Joel McNeeley. Review here;
As can be seen from the above the 2020s have been an immensely fertile time for Metheny with the release of three very different albums representing a rich variety of projects. These are just the latest instalments in a restlessly creative solo career that dates back to 1976 and the release of his début album “Bright Size Life” for ECM Records. At this juncture I’d normally attempt some kind of career overview but Metheny’s back catalogue is so vast and so varied that space doesn’t really permit. Overall his has been a stellar career distinguished by consistent artistic growth and a willingness to experiment. Not quite everything has hit the mark, but Metheny’s successes vastly outweigh any comparative failures. Virtually everything in a rich and diverse catalogue is worth hearing and it’s no wonder that he has been a regular and multiple award winner.
I’ve been following Metheny and his music since 1978 and have been lucky enough to see him perform live on numerous occasions over the years in a variety of configurations – the Pat Metheny Group, trios with Dave Holland / Roy Haynes and Larry Grenadier / Bill Stewart, duos with Charlie Haden and Brad Mehldau and the Sanchez/Oh/Simcock quartet. I’ve also seen him with a quartet led by vibraphonist Gary Burton, the musician with whom Metheny first started to make a name for himself.
That Burton date was part of a “ Gary Burton Quartet Revisited” tour in 2008 but it was with Burton that Metheny made his recorded début in 1974 on the album “Ring”. Burton had a habit of hiring younger musicians, much as Art Blakey had done with the Jazz Messengers, and Metheny was to benefit from his patronage.
Side Eye represents Metheny, now himself an elder statesman of the music, attempting to fulfil a similar role to Burton and Blakey. It sees him collaborating with some of the rising stars of the New York City jazz scene in a trio format featuring guitar, keyboards and drums. A constant in the group has been keyboard player James Francies, previously heard with saxophonist Chris Potter and a solo artist in his own right, who has recorded two albums under his own name with Blue Note Records.
The Side Eye drum chair has variously been filled by Eric Harland, Anwar Marshall, Nate Smith and on this recording Marcus Gilmore. For the forthcoming Side Eye world tour the stool will be occupied by Joe Dyson.
The first Side Eye album, featuring the fourth edition of the band, is actually a live recording, documented over the course of two performances at Sony Hall, New York City in September 2019. Metheny, Francies and Gilmore tackle a programme featuring a mix of compositions written specifically for the trio, a sprinkling of gems from the Metheny back catalogue and a version of the Ornette Coleman tune “Turnaround”.
Album opener “It Starts When We Disappear” is a near fourteen minute epic that draws upon the kind of layered, episodic writing that distinguished the music of the Pat Metheny Group. In this sparser trio format Francies makes effective use of a variety of keyboards while Metheny adds his “Orchestrionics” to his already impressive range of guitar effects. The result is a sound that is surprisingly rich in terms of colour and texture and which adds a touch of contemporary electronica to the traditional melodic virtues of Metheny’s writing. At times it almost sounds like the PMG in miniature and it’s tempting to think of Francies as ‘the new Lyle Mays’. Indeed it’s Francies who takes the first real solo of the piece, sparkling on acoustic piano as he dances above Metheny’s brisk comping and the rustle and bustle of Gilmore’s drums. It’s then Metheny’s turn to take flight, soaring in his trademark manner above Francies’ keyboard washes and Gilmore’s still busy, brightly detailed drumming. A gentler, more lyrical passage follows, revealing that Metheny has retained his gift for melody and his shrewd grasp of dynamics. Eventually the opening theme is reprised and the end of the piece generates a justifiably ecstatic reaction from the lucky New York audience.
“Better Days Ahead”, which first appeared on the 1990 Group album “Letter From Home” is one of Metheny’s best known compositions and represents another example of his melodic gift. Freshly arranged for the Side Eye trio by Metheny and Francies it first serves here as a vehicle for Metheny’s melodic, warm toned guitar improvising before acquiring a fresh twist via Francies’ combination of synth and organ sounds as the keyboards temporarily take over.
“Timeline” was written by Metheny for the late saxophonist Michael Brecker’s 1999 album “Time Is of the Essence”. The recording featured Brecker and Metheny alongside organist Larry Goldings, with drum duties equally shared around between Jeff ‘Tain’ Watts, Bill Stewart and the late, great Elvin Jones.
In the hands of the Side Eye trio the piece becomes a bluesy excursion in classic organ trio mode, with Metheny taking the first solo on guitar, playing with his customary melodic fluency before handing over to Francies on swirling, gospel flavoured Hammond. One senses the spirits of Jimmy Smith and Larry Young stalking the room. Subsequently Metheny and Francies go head to head, fuelled by Gilmore’s powerful drumming. Again the trio are rewarded with a positively rapturous audience reaction.
Metheny digs even deeper into the archives with the title track from “Bright Size Life”. One of his most enduringly popular tunes I remember it being dusted off on the 2002 “Speaking Of Now” Group tour when it was performed by the trio of Metheny, Sanchez and Richard Bona (electric bass).
Here Metheny introduces this with a brief passage of unaccompanied guitar before ushering in the familiar theme. The performance includes some authentic sounding bass lines, presumably generated by Francies, whose keyboards subsequently bring a new flavour to this much loved piece.
“Lodger” finds Side Eye in power trio mode as Metheny cranks up his amps to deliver his most rock influenced playing of the set, buoyed by the bluesy swell and swirl of the Hammond and Gilmore’s sturdy drumming.
There’s a change of pace with another dip into the past and a rare performance of “Sirabhorn”, another track from the seminal “Bright Size Life” album. The piece is named after, and dedicated to, the Thai musician Ti (Sirabhorn) Muntarbhorn, who was once one of Metheny’s guitar students at Berklee College of Music. There’s a fascinating interview with her on the London Jazz News website, which can be found here;
This is another early work that showcases Metheny’s maturity as a composer even at this stage of his career – he was just twenty one when the “Bright Size” album was released. In the hands of the Side Eye trio the piece sounds as fresh as ever, with Metheny himself delivering a particularly beautiful performance, enhanced by the subtle nuances of Gilmore’s drumming.
Metheny recorded Ornette Coleman’s “Turnaround” on his sprawling 1980 ECM double set “80/81”, an album that featured the talents of drummer Jack DeJohnette, the late bassist Charlie Haden and the twin tenor sax team of Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman, both of whom are sadly no longer with us. Metheny has always harboured an affection for Coleman and his music, recording “Round Trip / Broadway Blues on “Bright Size Life” and later teaming up with Coleman himself in 1985 on the incendiary album recording “Song X”.
Here the tune becomes a bluesy excursion with the solos shared between Metheny on guitar and Francies on acoustic piano. It’s unusual to hear a piano on a Coleman tune, so the younger man actually steals the instrumental honours here. The impressive Gilmore gives a strong performance on the kit and enjoys something of a feature towards the close. Apparently he’s the grandson of Roy Haynes, with whom Metheny once worked, which makes his participation in the Side Eye project all the more appropriate.
Having wandered through the back catalogue in semi jam band mode Metheny returns to the more ‘orchestral’ approach for the closing “Zenith Blue”, which sees him unleashing his famous guitar synthesiser sound for the first time. At a little over eleven and a half minutes in length this is the album’s second ‘epic’, similar in style to the opener with regard to its cinematic scope, episodic development and wide range of sounds, colours and textures. Gilmore gives a drum performance that is both dynamic and nuanced, skilfully responding to the myriad twists and turns of Metheny’s writing. Francies features on an array of keyboards, again fulfilling a Lyle Mays type of role. Fans of the PMG sound will love this piece, which eventually builds to a rousing climax, to the obvious delight of the New York audience.
With its reliance on older material this first Side Eye album is unlikely to become regarded as one of the most essential items in Metheny’s extensive canon. Nevertheless it is a fine recording in its own right and listeners will find much to enjoy here. There’s a vitality about the playing that stems from the comparative youthfulness of Francies and Gilmore, allied to the frisson of appearing in front of a highly supportive pre-pandemic crowd.
Within Metheny’s trademarked sound there’s plenty of stylistic and dynamic variety, with the two opening and closing pieces often sounding like the work of more than three players. In addition to this we hear elements of jazz, blues and rock in a programme that successfully maintains the listener’s attention, even in the home listening environment. Metheny’s legion of fans will lap this up, but there’s plenty here for the more casual observer to enjoy too. While hardly ‘essential’ this is a recording that I suspect I will keep coming back to.
Of course appearing on a Pat Metheny album should give a boost to the careers of both James Francies and Marcus Gilmore, who both perform superbly throughout. Other musicians who have raised their profile by appearing with Metheny include bassist / vocalist Richard Bona and trumpeter Cuong Vu.
Metheny is currently leading the Side Eye project on an extensive world tour, with a date in London in June 2022. The remaining dates are listed below;
October 16, 2021 - Memorial Hall - Cincinnati, OH
October 17, 2021 -Orchestra Hall - Detroit, MI
November 4, 2021 - Flying Monkey - Plymouth, NH
November 5, 2021 - State Theatre - Portland, ME
November 6, 2021 - Foxwoods- The Fox Theater - Mashantucket, CT
November 7, 2021 - Wilbur Theatre - Boston, MA
November 9, 2021 - Ridgefield Playhouse - Ridgefield, CT
November 11, 2021 - Keswick Theater - Glenside, PA
November 12, 2021 - State Theatre New Jersey - New Brunswick, NJ
November 13, 2021 - The Music Center at Strathmore - N Bethesda, MD
November 14, 2021 - Patchogue Theater of Performing Arts - Patchogue, NY
November 16, 2021 - Williams Center for the Arts - Easton, PA
November 18, 2021 - Kodak Theater - Rochester, NY
November 19, 2021 - Troy Music Hall - Troy, NY
November 20, 2021 - Academy of Music - Northampton, MA
February 3, 2022 - State Theatre - State College, PA
February 4, 2022 - Ferguson Center for the Arts - Newport News, VA
February 5, 2022 - Jefferson Center - Roanoke, VA
February 7, 2022 - Schermerhorn Symphony Center - Nashville, TN
February 8, 2022 - Thomas Wolfe Auditorium - Asheville, NC
February 9, 2022 - Carolina Theater - Durham, NC
February 11, 2022 - Blumenthal Knight Arts Theater - Charlotte, NC
February 12, 2022 - Variety Theater (2 Shows) - Atlanta, GA
February 13, 2022 - UAB’s Alys Stephens Center - Birmingham, AL
February 14, 2022 - Charleston Music Hall - Charleston, SC
February 16, 2022 - Lyric Center - Stuart, FL
February 17, 2022 - Dr. Phillips Center - Orlando, FL
February 18, 2022 - Arsht Center Knight Concert Hall - Miami, FL
February 19, 2022 - Florida Theatre - Jacksonville, FL
February 20, 2022 - Capitol Theatre - Clearwater, FL
February 23, 2022 - One World Theater - Austin, TX
February 24, 2022 - One World Theater - Austin, TX
February 25, 2022 - Cullen Theater - Houston, TX
February 26, 2022 - Majestic Theatre- Dallas, TX
April 26, 2022 - Sono Centrum- Brno, Cz
April 27, 2022 - Wiener Konzerthaus- Vienna, Au
April 28, 2022 - MUPA - Budapest, Hgy
April 29, 2022 - Forum Karlin - Prague, Cz
May 1, 2022 - Alte Oper Erfurt - Erfurt, Gr
May 2, 2022 - Alte Oper - Frankfurt, Gr
May 3, 2022 - Tollhaus Karlsruhe - Karlsruhe, Gr
May 4, 2022 - Tonhalle Dusseldorf - Dusseldorf, Gr
May 6, 2022 - Grand Teatro Geox - Padova, It
May 7, 2022 - Teatro Alighieri -Ravenna, It
May 8, 2022 - Teatro Umberto Giordano - Foggia, It
May 9, 2022 - Auditorium Parco della Musica - Rome, It
May 11, 2022 - Auditorium Del Lingotto - Torino, It
May 12, 2022 - Teatro degli Arcimboldi - Milano, It
May 13, 2022 - Volkhaus - Zurich, Sw
May 14, 2022 - Philharmonie im Gasteig - Munich, Gr
May 15, 2022 - Philharmonic Luxembourg - Luxembourg
May 17, 2022 - Admiralspalast - Berlin, Gr
May 19, 2022 - Oetkerhalle Halle - Bielefeld, Gr
May 20, 2022 - Geblasehalle - Neunkirchen, Gr
May 21, 2022 - L’Olympia - Paris, Fr
May 22, 2022 - Ancienne Belgique - Brussels, Bl
May 24, 2022 - Beethoven Saal - Stuttgart, Gr
May 25, 2022 - Konzerthaus Dortmund - Dortmund, Gr
May 27, 2022 - Haus Auensee - Leipzig, Gr
May 28, 2022 - Laeiszhalle - Hamburg, Gr
May 29, 2022 - De Roma - Antwerp, Bl
May 30, 2022 - Tivoli Vredenberg - Utrecht, Hld
June 2, 2022 - Opera Nova - Bydgoszcz, Pl
June 3, 2022 - Opera Lesna - Sopot, Pl
June 4, 2022 - Palladium - Warsaw, Pl
June 6, 2022 - National Forum of Music - Wroclaw, Pl
June 7, 2022 - Centrum Spotkania Kultur - Lublin, Pl
June 8, 2022 - Church of St. Kolbe - Bielsko-Biala, Pl
June 9, 2022 - Kunsthaus Weiz - Weiz, Aus
June 12, 2022 - Hammersmith - London, UK
June 14, 2022 - Rocher de Palmer - Cenon, Fr
June 15, 2022 - Sala Mozart - Zaragoza, Sp
June 17, 2022 - Aud. Mar de Vigo - Vigo, Sp
June 18, 2022 - Botanical Garden - Madrid, Sp
June 19, 2022 - Teatro de la Maestranza - Seville, Sp
June 21, 2022 - Palau de la Musica - Barcelona, Sp
June 22, 2022 - Palau de les Arts - Valencia, Sp
Further details at http://www.patmetheny.com
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