Monday, June 27, 2011

Music Notes – What’s It All About

Pat Metheny’s One Quiet Night won the Grammy Award for Best New Age album the year it was released. While most people who listen to Metheny’s music, heck, most people who listen to music, would not see him as a New Age performer, I can see why the disc was classified there. The songs were, as many extended extemporary improvisations are, mostly reflective, meditative in mood.
I say this to contrast that project with Metheny’s latest: What’s It All About, the great guitarist and composer’s first album of all “cover tunes.” Here, while the mood and tone may seem to the same to some listeners, this sucker is pure jazz.
Most of the tunes are played with the baritone guitar used on One Quiet Night, but a handful are not. The opening track, Paul Simon’s “The Sound of Silence,” is performed with Metheny’s 42-string Pikkaso, and sounds so good, I keep wanting a whole album of songs devoted just to that instrument. A nylon string guitar is used on what is probably my favorite piece on the album, the Beatles’ classic “And I Love Her.”
What makes this disc so interesting, listen after delicious listen, is that we actually have Metheny’s voice, for lack of a better word, on these classic, mostly pop songs. Tunes like “Rainy Days and Mondays” and “That’s the Way I Always Heard It Should Be” retain the longing and angst of the original melodies, but seem brighter, warmer, like that second cup of coffee. And with songs like “Cherish,” “Alfie,” and “Betcha By Golly, Wow,” Metheny solos so well around the main melody that the listener gets more than the same old sandwich with garnish on the plate to make it seem pretty. These are seasoned tunes made fresh with ingredients that could only be found in Pat Metheny’s musical kitchen.
One disappointment for me is Metheny’s treatment of “Garota de Ipanema” (“The Girl from Ipanema”). I like the idea of taking it out of its traditional bossa nova setting, and I don’t mind putting some space between phrases, but this version is so slow that I barely recognized the tune. That doesn’t keep the result from being pretty and listenable, however.
Those who download the album from iTunes get a couple of bonuses worth noting. First, there is the digital booklet providing some information about the album. Second and more important, one gets two extra songs: “’Round Midnight” and “This Was Nearly Mine.” I was not familiar with the latter, but Metheny’s rendition of the Thelonious Monk classic is one of the most interesting and haunting I have heard in a very long time.
If you come to What’s It All About looking for elevator music or new age versions of some familiar old songs, expect to be pleasantly disappointed. If you are looking for something tasty and cool for your summer listening, this is perhaps the best album for your needs.

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