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Pat Metheny Trio in Tampa

Pat Metheny made his recording debut 33 years ago leading a trio on Bright Size Life (ECM), with Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses, and later helmed three-way musical explorations with rhythm tandems including Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins, Dave Holland and Roy Haynes, and Larry Grenadier and Bill Stewart. The format, a stripped-down setting in comparison with his more sonically spacious Pat Metheny Group, remains a viable vehicle for the prolific guitarist and composer, as he demonstrated during an enthusiastically received performance at Tampa Theatre, a ’20s-vintage movie palace occasionally doubling as a concert hall.

Metheny, young bass master Christian McBride and Group drummer Antonio Sanchez, who have worked together off and on since 2002, are touring in support of Day Trip (Nonesuch), their just-released debut CD, recorded in late 2005. But the show’s centerpiece was a long, dramatic performance of “Question & Answer,” from the 1989 CD of the same name with Holland and Haynes.

Over limber waltz time provided by the dynamic McBride-Sanchez rhythm axis, Metheny supplied another of his achingly beautiful melodies, using repetition and a sort of self-dialogue during his solo to lead the trio through several sequences of tension and release. McBride, for his improvisation, employed octave jumps, quick 16th-note runs and quotes from the tune’s head. Later, Metheny used his synth guitar to create a gorgeous cacophony-long, glimmering lines edged with shrieking trail-offs, all accelerating to a psychedelic fever pitch. Dropping to a whisper, the focus shifted to Sanchez, who interjected watery snare slaps loaded with dub-style reverb. Several six-string scratches, strums and swells and cymbal scrapes later, the show-stopping piece ended quietly.

The show, at two-hours-plus, had Metheny opening alone on baritone guitar. For “Make Peace,” from Metheny Mehldau, he strummed hard, injecting stray dissonances as the piece became ever more hypnotic, dark-toned and turbulent before returning to its original, mellow theme. A pretty nylon-string rendition of a Mehldau piece was followed by “The Sound of Water” (from Metheny and Mehldau’s Quartet), built around the otherworldly sounds of Metheny’s 42-string Pikasso guitar, a four-headed Frankenstein instrument that sometimes sounded like a harp, sometimes like a sitar and occasionally functioned as an impromptu hand drum.

Joined by his rhythm section, he touched on Day Trip, offering “Son of Thirteen,” with its haunting melody and sudden stops, and modified bossa “Snova.” Also in the mix were the beautiful slow ballad “Always and Forever,” from Secret Story; the Ornette Coleman collaboration “Police People,” an uptempo gem introduced in 2005 on the 20th-anniversary edition of their Song X; and “Night Turns Into Day,” from Trio Live, replete with folkish bowed bass solo. For the jolting encore, a raucous, almost punk-metal number, McBride switched to fretless electric and Metheny retrieved his synth guitar. It would be safe to say that Metheny fans got what they wanted, and any first-timers were given a chance to discover their new favorite guitarist-still one of the jazz world’s most creative and innovative artists.

Originally Published