Pat Metheny: Dream Box

Solo recitals of archived music from the delay-swathed guitarist don't show his powerful melodic gift at its best

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Pat Metheny produces beautifully strong, rich melodies, whether as composer or improviser. Indeed I’d call him one of the major neglected jazz composers. Unfortunately they’re less obvious on Dream Box, a compilation of nine “found tracks” for “quiet electric guitar”. As Metheny explains, “While on tour [in 2022], I discovered a forgotten folder on my drive. I often make quick recordings of things; a new tune, a new (or old) guitar, a standard tune . . . The only time I listen to my own stuff is while on the road.”

Born in 1954, Metheny began teaching guitar at Berklee College of Music in 1973 and the following year joined Gary Burton, adopting 12-string electric guitar to differentiate his sound from that of Burton’s other guitarist, Mick Goodrick. From 1977 he led a quartet featuring keyboardist Lyle Mays, longstanding associate into the 1990s. He also worked with Dewey Redman, Charlie Haden and Paul Motian, and has always loved Ornette Coleman’s work. He brings together bop, free jazz, jazz-rock, country, folk and Brazilian music in an accessible style with depth.

In 1977 he created a new and influential sound – warm, smooth and full-bodied, modified via quivering digital delay. It contrasts both with the pure monochromatic timbres of jazz guitar from Charlie Christian onwards, and the aggressive timbres of jazz-rock. By the time of this recording, the sound is less pronounced. Guitar expert Mick Wright comments that “in the 80s it reached peak quivering delays with a deliberately dull middle frequency spiced up with delay FX and effortlessly fluent phrasing – he used three different delay times sent to three different amplifiers to create a literally spatialised chorus of sounds”.

Dr Wright also thinks that the best material is from the 80s and 90s: Song X, We Live Here, Secret Story, Rejoicing, Offramp, Beyond the Missouri Sky. This release is certainly not at their level. My favourite is the single standard, I Fall In Love Too Easily. (Judging by some online publicity, perhaps Blue In Green was intended to be included, but doesn’t appear on my download.) But it’s impossible, on this solo album, not to attend to the sound, which doesn’t please me when it’s so exposed as here. A pity, because Metheny is a great musician.

Discography
The Waves Are Not The Ocean; From The Mountains; Ole & Gard; Trust Your Angels; Never Was Love; I Fall In Love Too Easily; P.C. of Belgium; Morning Of The Carnival; Clouds Can’t Change The Sky (56.05)
Metheny (g). Various dates and locations.
BMG 4050538891690