One of my very first posts ever was in late 2015 (my how time flies) and it was on the subject of virtuoso jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. As I said in that post, “What I like about Metheny is that he is very varied in what and with whom he plays. He’d do solo guitar stuff, then put out something with a rock-like flavor then do something totally “outside” with someone like Ornette Coleman. And as mentioned in an earlier post he was one of the jazz musicians who backed Joni Mitchell for a while.” (In the ’70s.)
What got me thinking about Metheny was a two-hour interview he did with YouTube blogger Rick Beato. Beato is no slouch himself on the axe but can be fairly said to be a worshiper of Metheny. Pat is an incredibly loquacious guy and his interview is well worth checking out, especially if you’ve ever picked up an instrument.
Metheny spent time playing with Gary Burton around his adopted home of Boston (he’s from Missouri) in the ’70s and like all acolytes, Burton eventually encouraged him to go do his own thing. Metheny had been hanging around with Jaco Pastorious who he met when he went to the University of Miami a few years prior. (UMiami was a hotbed of jazzers. Steve Morse also went there around the same time.)
Anyway, in the course of the interview, Metheny talks about his debut solo album Bright Size Life which was released in 1976. On this album, Metheny, Pastorious, and drummer Bob Moses play (mostly) Metheny’s solo compositions. Metheny has “described the album as being ‘moderately successful’ when it was released, selling around 900 copies.” (I guess it depends largely on your definition of ‘moderately successful.’
Moses was by then an established presence on the jazz scene but Metheny and Jaco were largely unknown. Pat wisely gives Jaco a lot of space because Pastorious is hardly the “I will play the root note” kind of player. Metheny has stated that in all the years since he played Jaco, while others try to imitate him, no one else really comes close to his style, sound and technique.
First up is the title tune. This introduced the world – or at least 600 people – to Metheny’s bright, open, clean sound. To my ears, he really doesn’t sound like anyone else (I cannot find his studio work on YouTube so, all Spotify):
I find it ironic that the album was so overlooked at the time given that jazz and especially fusion was so (relatively) popular in the 70s. It wouldn’t be till a couple years later when the Pat Metheny Group released their eponymous album and then American Garage that he would become more well-known.
And with him living in Boston in those years, it wasn’t hard for me and my guitar buddies to go see him. Once my buddy Bill and went to see him at a small now-defunct jazz club in Cambridge. And while we were waiting for him to go on, there he was sitting on the floor behind us, warming up by playing scales. No star trip for this guy.
This tune is called “Missouri Uncompromised.” The whole band is on its game with Moses really wailing away on drums:
As these things sometimes go, after Metheny became a (jazz) household name, people went back and found Bright Size Life. My guess is that it’s now sold more than 600 copies to his mother. In fact, according to Wikipedia, “In 2005, the first track was included on the Progressions: 100 Years Of Jazz Guitar compilation on Columbia Records.”
In 2011, the first track was included on the Jazz: The Smithsonian Anthology compilation In August 2020, the album was included in the list of 100 Jazz Albums That Shook the World.
And if that isn’t enough, this year it was deemed “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant” by the Library of Congress and selected for preservation in the National Recording Registry. Of the album they said:
“Pat Metheny’s debut album, Bright Size Life signaled a new direction for jazz in the mid-1970s–not only for leader Pat Metheny, but also bassist Jaco Pastorius, drummer Bob Moses, and Gary Burton, who went uncredited as a producer at the time, though he wrote the album’s liner notes.
In their only album together, all participants built on the musical traditions that preceded them to create a new expression of jazz distinguished by their own styles and personalities, before blazing their own distinctive trails in the music. The album saw modest initial sales, but the passage of time has made its significance clear.”
Metheny’s currently touring and coming back to Boston in November. I keep considering going to see him and I suppose I could safely with a mask. But well, then again there’s always next year