|Pat Metheny (left) with Linda Oh (right) at Ronnie Scott’s
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2016. All rights reserved.
Pat Metheny Quartet
(Ronnie Scott’s, first house, night 3 of 4-day residency, 1 July 2016; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)
Rarely, if ever, have I seen a musician visibly enjoying playing so much. Pat Metheny’s smiles, throughout his set at Ronnie Scott’s (first house, Friday, third of four nights), were infectious, shared with his hand-picked, youthful band, celebrating impeccable musicianship – Antonio Sanchez, Metheny’s long-standing drummer, and recent recruits, bassist Linda Oh and pianist Gwilym Simcock (who also had the success of the Welsh football team to celebrate between houses!) – and with the totally rapt, respectful audience of around 200 in a venue far more intimate than the concert halls which are his usual domain.
Metheny was straight down to business with a winning humility, seated, sharply focused on a solo sequence on his extraordinary, multiple-necked Pikasso guitar, built by Linda Manzer when he asked her to design an instrument ‘with as many strings as possible’! Washes of sound emerged, strummed, picked, blended and layered; lute and zither tones from obliquely angled fretboards – right hand summoning rich chords from the 12-string while the left mined bassy depths from the 6-string, with subtle amplification filling out Metheny’s signature warmth.
Reprising on the opening theme, the band joined him, and fell in to place to deliver a telepathically fluid set. Metheny may have been the driving spirit, revelling in the opportunity to engage so closely with his audience, yet it was also a hugely generous spirit that brought out the very best in his co-musicians.
A tunesmith at heart, Metheny navigated complex twists and turns in a string of gently melodic, yet compelling compositions, flipping back and forth from chordal to rapidly morphing, single string plectrum expression with consummate and joyous mastery. Softly burnished jazz and folk veneers were traded for tougher, rockier riffs and latin grooves which Sanchez underpinned with discreet percussive power. Oh added the alertness and authority of a keen, loping bass bounce, while Simcock, gently dropping in to synch with Metheny, didn’t need to be asked – when let off the lead, his crystal clear solo keyboard attacks just flew.
Metheny’s delicate, acoustic fingerwork on the iconic Farmers Trust was underscored by marginal accompaniments from Simcock on synth, taps from Sanchez and hinted accents from Oh. Amongst highlights of the 100 minute set was one of the two compositions which Metheny has written specially for the Ronnie’s residency, in this set, fast-moving with a classical Spanish flavour, walking that fine line between memorised structure and glistening extemporisation that is a Metheny trademark.
Metheny’s duets with each band member were real jewels. Oh shone with a bossa flourish, body and bass moving as one. Simcock and Metheny swapped breathtakingly high harmonics, and investing the monumental Phase Dance with further latin energy, Metheny delivering scintillating solo runs, and romped along with Sanchez whose down-to-tight-detail mini-solo tied up the sequence in style.
Apologising for not talking, he grinned and paused to praise the staff at Ronnie’s before launching in to the deep-rooted bass riff underpinning Are You Going With Me?, with Oh on electric bass, in a devastatingly intense version showcasing Metheny’s commanding dexterity. Encoring with a solo, folk-tinged acoustic medley, a beaming Metheny left the stage to a second standing ovation.
What a rare opportunity to see a total master so close up, letting his hair down (metaphor unavoidable) and unashamedly, gratefully enjoying the occasion where the feelings were unanimously reciprocated throughout the house – the Ronnie’s staff were whooping and clapping between numbers, too!