Blue notes

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 10 July, 2011, 12:00am


Pat Metheny is a composer and jazz musician of great versatility, whose wide-ranging interests have taken him into a variety of contexts. However, it is unusual to hear him play unaccompanied solo guitar - which is a shame because he does it well, as seen on What's It All About?, only his sixth unaccompanied solo release in a 35-year career.

His last solo project, Orchestrion, used player-piano-derived technology to present Metheny performing with an extensive range of instrumental voices. This album, however, harks back to 2003's One Quiet Night, on which Metheny, inspired by a new baritone guitar built for him by luthier Linda Manzer, sat down in his home studio and improvised alone.

That album featured some cover tunes (including Norah Jones' Don't Know Why and Gerry and the Pacemakers' Ferry Cross the Mersey), which was unusual because the Pat Metheny Group generally perform compositions by Metheny and keyboardist Lyle Mays only.

This album goes a step further: there are no original compositions. 'I wanted to record some of the music that was on my radar before I ever wrote a note of my own.'

There are tunes made famous by, among others, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beatles, The Carpenters and The Stylistics. 'Every one of these tunes has something going on that is just hip on a musical level, no matter how you cut it,' says Metheny. 'They have all stuck with me over the years.'

Many of the tunes were his choices to run through while on tour at sound checks. People kept asking Metheny on which album he had recorded them, and since he hadn't, he decided that perhaps he should.

He manages to explore subtle and unexpected aspects of each. Pipeline, the 1963 Chantays surf instrumental, gets a flamenco-tinged treatment. The Girl from Ipanema loses her samba beat as he investigates the harmonic possibilities of the familiar melody.

The most effective interpretation is Paul McCartney's And I Love Her, which he plays on a nylon string guitar. This album is a valuable addition to the unaccompanied solo jazz guitar canon.

Gig of the week is the final performance this Saturday on the Fringe Club stage before it closes for renovation - a programme of Duke Ellington classics performed by the 16-piece Happy Go Lucky Big Band, fronted by vocalist Elaine Liu. Showtime is 10.30pm.

Take Three

Three other noteworthy albums of unaccompanied solo jazz guitar.

Virtuoso (Pablo, 1972): Joe Pass was not the first jazz guitarist to play unaccompanied solos, but he was the first major talent to perform entire sets without other musicians. A groundbreaking album.

Opening the Eyes of Love (Shanachie, 1993): nylon-string fingerstyle virtuoso Duck Baker, whose repertoire extends from traditional Celtic music to big band tunes and beyond, turns to jazz with spectacular effect.

Martin Taylor in Concert (Milestone, 2000): Taylor is the heir to Pass as a guitarist who is best known for his virtuoso solo work. This 1998 CD includes his spectacular version of I Got Rhythm.