Pat Metheny & Ron Carter LIVE! at The Newton Theater
If one were to spend some time thinking about the true giants of jazz, names like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington are likely to come to mind. In considering more contemporary jazz artists, however, Miles Davis is one individual whom many might consider among the greatest modern-day jazz icons.
Miles wasn’t just a trumpet player. He was an innovator who, like Louis Armstrong, changed the way we listen to music. Armstrong changed the concept of time in music. Before him, time was strict — but, now, it could loosen up and swing! Miles took musical innovation even further. He helped with the birth of cool jazz. In terms of improvisation — the hallmark of jazz — he came up with the idea of spontaneously creating melodies using modes, or musical scales, rather than basing them on chords.
Miles also was a great band leader who, like Duke, used his players as another “instrument” and created innovative pieces for them where different colors, textures, and rhythms could convey musical stories. With his early big bands, his well-known quintets with musicians like bassist Ron Carter, and with his electrified ensembles, Miles broke the mold of everything that had come before him in modern jazz, opening up a new world of possibilites for innovation.
Enter Pat Metheny.
Metheny, 61, a 20-time Grammy-winning guitar prodigy, is assuredly one of the most important musicians of the past 40 years. Not only is he a virtuoso on the traditional jazz guitar, he has been instrumental in the development of several new kinds of guitars including the soprano acoustic guitar, the 42-string Pikasso guitar, and the “Orchestrion,” a room-filled collection of musical instruments which play based on computerized instructions generated from Metheny’s single master electric guitar.
Like Miles — and Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington before him — Metheny is a true innovator, his musical output incorporating a unique blend of unusual time signatures, sophisticated harmonies, and novel instrumental amalgamations. Furthermore, he uses his various musical ensembles to create a vast array of experimental soundscapes. The music produced by Pat Metheny Group, The Pat Metheny Trio, the Unity Group, and his collaborations with other musicians are a testament to his sonic creativity.
Pat was born in Kansas City into a musical family. Starting on trumpet at the age of 8, he switched to guitar when he turned 12; by the time he was 15, he was working regularly with the best jazz musicians in town. At 18, Metheny became the youngest teacher ever at the University of Miami; by the age of 19, he was hired as the youngest teacher ever at Boston’s Berklee College of Music.
Following a 3-year stint with vibraphonist Gary Burton, Metheny reinvented the traditional “jazz guitar” sound for a new generation of players with a series of recordings starting with Bright Size Life, Pat Metheny Group, and American Garage. Over the years, he has won 20 Grammy awards in 12 different categories. Moreover, his band, The Pat Metheny Group, has won an unprecedented seven consecutive Grammys for seven consecutive albums.
After a critically acclaimed duet performance at the Detroit Jazz Festival in 2015 with bassist Ron Carter, Metheny decided to further his quest to innovate and explore new worlds of music by joining forces with Carter and presenting a select number of concerts around the world in 2016. On Sunday, April 24, 2016, Metheny and Carter’s tour stopped in the Eastern US where, amidst the scenic mountains of northwestern New Jersey, they met each other on stage at The Newton Theater.
There, Metheny had the opportunity to spend a solid 90 minutes on a Sunday evening — no intermission — creating his sonic explorations with Carter in a wonderful venue staffed with friendly faces and filled with enthusiatic admirers of world-class live music.
Opening with “My Funny Valentine,” the pair began a classic evening of brilliantly performed jazz. Continuing with such standards as “Manha de Carnival,” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” the two filled the room with sonic delights — ranging in dynamics from pianissimo (very soft) to fortissimo (very loud)— with Metheny’s gorgeous electric jazz guitar tone cascading out on top and Carter’s warm, rounded acoustic bass tone streaming out on the bottom
The performers did very little talking the entire evening. Other than Metheny introducing Mr. Carter to the audience at the beginning of the show and thanking him at the end, both artists did all of their “talking” on their instruments via their prodigious musical talent.
Metheny has previously gone on record revealing he has been a fan of Carter since childhood, when he used to listen to Ron’s LP performances with Miles Davis. In fact, according to Metheny, it was Miles Davis’ live recording of Four and More featuring Ron Carter on bass which Pat heard when he was 11 that inspired him to become a professional musician.
And what a musician he turned out to be!
As the duo continued through jazz standards including Miles Davis’ “Freddie Freeloader,” in addition to such Metheny originals as “Question and Answer” and “James,” Pat proved to the sold-out crowd at The Newton Theater why he is such a musical force to be reckoned with. His virtuoso guitar improvisations took on flights of fancy which seemed to stretch the boundaries of space and time creating a wondrous cornucopia of improptu musical magic for all to experience and enjoy.
And not only did Metheny dazzle the crowd playing his electric jazz guitar, he also treated the audience and Mr. Carter, as well, to an epic solo improvisation on his 42-string Pikasso guitar — an instrument which took Pat a decade to master — the apparatus filling the room with waves of stunning sound. Using his right hand to strum four sets of strings and his left hand on the main fingerboard — most often without any right-hand strumming at all — Metheny produced an other-worldly synthesis of grandiose vibrations which simply must be heard to be believed, impressing not only the audience, but Carter, as well.
Not to be outdone by his younger stage-mate, Carter, age 79, responded at first with a simple rendition of the children’s favorite, “The Farmer in the Dell,” evoking laughter from both Metheny and the crowd. Then, playing the part of the Distinguished Professor Emeritus he is in real life at City College of New York, he proceeded to “school” the audience and Metheny on the vast improvisational possibilities which could only be conjured up by one of the finest musicians to ever play the acoustic double bass on “You Are My Sunshine.” And when he was finished, the audience was electrified, as was Metheny.
And no wonder: Carter is considered one of the all-time most influential bassists in jazz. With more than 2,000 albums to his credit, he was part of Miles Davis’ famous “second great quintet” which, with saxophonist Wayne Shorter, pianist Herbie Hancock, and drummer Tony Williams, created such legendary jazz recordings as E.S.P., Nefertiti, and Filles de Kilimanjaro. He’s also recorded with such musical greats as Wes Montgomery, B.B. King, Dexter Gordon, and Bill Evans.
At The Newton Theater, however, it was just Carter and Metheny, concluding the evening with their own unique take on Herbie Hancock’s “Cantaloupe Island” (a song which Carter played on the original recording). From an audience member’s perspective, it seemed that Metheny — perhaps next in line to be considered among the preeminent jazz icons in music history with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Miles Davis — was truly humbled and thrilled to be working with the likes of Carter.
And, as members of the audience, we were truly humbled and thrilled to be in the presence of the likes of jazz innovator extraordinaire Pat Metheny.
For more information on Pat Metheny and his music, please go to patmetheny.com. For more on Ron Carter, see roncarter.net. For information on upcoming performances at The Newton Theater — including Arlo Guthrie on May 7 and Todd Rundgren on May 26 — please click on thenewtontheatre.com.