How else could Pat Metheny follow the over-the-top grandeur of Orchestrion? What’s It All About is a solo album, the guitarist performing ’60s and early ’70s pop staples-a couple of them jazz crossovers-mostly on baritone guitar. It’s a quiet, beautiful record that emphasizes the tunes’ lyricism and the tone and details of the guitar.
It skews closer to Metheny’s new-age sympathies than to his jazz work, though. His use of the infamous Pikasso 42-string on opener “The Sound of Silence” is a harbinger, with its harp-like delicacies and vaguely Eastern harmony. It’s stark and slowed-down, which becomes a common thread in the tunes, as if they are arranged to emphasize their possibilities as mood music. “Rainy Days and Mondays” seems to exist solely as a soundtrack for such a day, for example, and Henry Mancini’s “Slow Hot Wind” sounds like a music-box melody. The furiously strummed surf classic “Pipeline” is the exception that proves the rule; even this finishes with light, subtle harmonics.
Not that there aren’t solos, and excellent ones to boot. On the Beatles’ “And I Love Her,” Metheny creates a sly come-hither that stands in relief to the written tune’s understated sweetness; “Alfie” hews closer, more a variation than a new invention, but with gorgeous layers of ornamentation to get lost in. What’s It All About isn’t a disc for traditionalists (who’ve never been comfortable with Metheny anyway), but a jewel for those who want loveliness regardless of framework.