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Pat Metheny: Hommage à Eberhard Weber

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During the 1980s, guitarist-composer Pat Metheny became one of the most popular jazz musicians alive by leading a band whose melodies and textures seemed tailor-made for the nighttime air of a sprawling amphitheater. In more recent years, his small-group tours have been more consistent and satisfying than most primetime rock acts could manage. And then there was Orchestrion, the solo album and marathon tour wherein the instruments accompanying Metheny were triggered by a hopelessly complex series of robots. His comfort with working on a large scale, not in the sense of ensemble size but in terms of conceptual ingenuity and exposure, is undeniable.

Metheny’s “Hommage,” the half-hour-plus performance at the center of this live tribute to Eberhard Weber, doesn’t feature any solenoids, but it does capture both the melodic gift and the boundary-pushing approach to the jazz concert that have defined the guitarist’s success. Of course, credit should be assigned in equal part to Weber, the trailblazing bassist and champion of European jazz who was sidelined by a stroke in 2007. Weber, now 75, and Metheny, 61, worked together at an early crux in the guitarist’s career, recording on two dates led by vibraphonist Gary Burton and on Metheny’s Watercolors, the 1977 LP that inaugurated his collaboration with Lyle Mays.

To make something like real-time performance with the bassist possible, and to ensure an onstage spectacle, Metheny sought out solo performance film. From this footage, recorded at two concerts from the second half of the ’80s, he extracted choice pieces of melody to use as both components of and inspiration for an orchestral tour de force. A project of such ambition deserves the best practitioners, and Hommage has them, with Germany’s SWR Big Band supporting soloists Metheny, Burton, Scott Colley (bass), Danny Gottlieb (drums, reunited here with the guitarist after three decades) and, via sound and screen, Weber.

The writing mostly looks to the era of jazz composition during which Metheny and Weber made their ascent, the ’70s and ’80s, when postbop melodies and Joni Mitchell songs captivated the same audience with the same accessible intellect. Weber’s lines, strong yet keening in his trademarked solidbody-upright tone, dictate the piece’s narrative shifts while showcasing Metheny’s gift for curating samples. Like a deft hip-hop producer, he knows what to pluck and repeat, how to make a hook out of a shard. (The blues bassline that emerges at 12:20 will make you giggle.) Complementing Metheny’s centerpiece are additional performances of Weber music that would be the pearl of most any other album-especially the opening saxophone incantation, featuring Jan Garbarek in duet with his musical brother via tape.

Originally Published