CD review

Pat Metheny – ‘Road to the Sun’

Pat Metheny – Road to the Sun
(Modern Recordings / BMG. Review by Julian Maynard-Smith)

The first thing to know about this album is that it’s classical guitar and, apart from strumming on two tracks, Pat Metheny plays on only the final track – and that’s not even his own composition but Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina.

But keep an open mind and open ears, because on this album you’ll hear some of the world’s finest classical guitarists playing new Metheny compositions of great beauty and virtuosity.

First off is Four Paths of Light, a four-part suite for solo guitar. It’s a credit to Metheny’s versatility that it’s often hard to recognise him as the composer, some highly arpeggiated passages played in strict tempo suggestive of classical etudes, and Part 4 a piece in 3/4 time with a strong flamenco flavour; but inevitably Metheny’s distinctive lyricism and personality shine through, particularly in Part 2.

If anyone’s going to play this suite, Jason Vieaux is the perfect choice. He gained international attention in 1992 aged only nineteen by becoming the youngest ever winner of the prestigious Guitar Foundation of America’s International Guitar Competition; and further cemented his reputation when his 2014 album Play won a Grammy for best classical instrumental solo. His tastes have the breadth needed to do justice to new, genre-defying work, his recordings spanning the more obvious classical guitar repertoire (such as Fernando Sor and Agustín Barrios Mangoré, and transcriptions of JS Bach and Isaac Albéniz) to Astor Piazzolla to more contemporary classical composers such as Aaron Jay Kernis.

But most revealing of all is Vieaux’s 2005 album Images of Metheny, a set of Metheny originals arranged for solo guitar of which the centrepiece is 5 Songs in the Form of a Baroque Suite that does what it says: take five Metheny compositions and perform them as if they were baroque compositions, to beautiful effect. And as well as an obvious love for Metheny’s compositions, Vieaux has a well-matched playing style of meticulous clarity combined with lush romanticism.

Metheny’s also found the perfect performers for Road to the Sun, a six-part suite for four guitars that follows Paths of Light. The Los Angeles Guitar Quartet comprises John Dearman, William Kanengiser, Scott Tennant and Matthew Greif who, like Vieaux, perform across many genres, from Bach to bluegrass to rock. LAGQ’s classical crossover album Guitar Heroes (2005) won a Grammy and included compositions by composers as diverse as Steve Howe of Yes fame, Chet Atkins and (are we seeing a pattern here?) Pat Metheny.

As with Four Paths of Light, the parts of Road to the Sun show great compositional complexity and a wide variety of moods, from the baroque feel of Part 1 to quiet nocturnal musings in Part 3 to the special effects that conclude Part 4: slithery glissandi that sound like the players running their nails along the strings, dry percussive strums on muted strings, and high-pitched tinkling that I suspect is picking the strings between the nut and tuning pegs. Part 2 and Part 5 sound like vintage Pat Metheny, concluding with sections that could almost be the Pat Metheny Group unplugged – perhaps because they’re the only two parts on which Metheny performs, raising the question of how much a musician’s sound derives from their compositions and how much from their playing style.

We certainly get Metheny’s playing style on the concluding piece, a reinterpretation of Arvo Pärt’s solo piano composition Für Alina. Metheny plays it on his famous custom-made 42-string Pikasso [sic] guitar, so named because its three curiously arranged necks and two sound holes make it look like a cubist interpretation of a guitar. Its sound is incredible, from deep resonant bass notes to bright ringing tones reminiscent of a zither – and Metheny beautifully captures the ethereal melancholy of the original.

For Metheny lovers or anyone interested in classical guitar, this album’s a must. And for anyone not yet familiar with classical guitar, this stunning album could well be their gateway drug to a whole new universe of wonders.

Road to the Sun is released on Modern Recordings / BMG on 5 March 2021

11 replies »

      • Julian I very much appreciated your review of “Road to the Sun”. I have listened to this album several times now. There is a lot to unpack here, and as with music of any complexity, classical, jazz or otherwise, the listen requires concentrated effort but has ultimately been hugely rewarding. I never cease to be amazed at Pat’s courage and willingness to follow his remarkable creative urges wherever they take him.

        Your review gave me insight that I would have otherwise gotten from liner notes in years past but which typically don’t come with downloads. So thanks for a fine and informative review.

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  1. I have loved pat metheny for over 20 I have alll his albums – he is truly an amazing talent 👏
    my favorites
    last train home
    as falls so fall witchta falls
    falcon & snowman
    Yolanda you learn
    my name is Yolanda….lol love 💘 him

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    • Like you, I’ve loved Pat Metheny’s music for decades. I first heard his music when in my second year at uni and a friend gave me a C90 cassette (remember them?!) with Offramp on one side. I swear I played that cassette so much I must have worn the metal-coated tape right back to the plastic.

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    • Dear RickH

      Like you, I’m constantly amazed by Pat’s courage and consistency over decades of albums and live performances. And I’m thrilled you got so much from my review. Feedback such as your makes all the effort of creating the review worthwhile, and I especially appreciated your point that a good review is an excellent substitute for a lack of liner notes.

      Julian

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      • Dear RickH

        Like you, I’m constantly amazed by Pat’s courage and consistency over decades of albums and live performances. And I’m thrilled you got so much from my review. Feedback such as yours makes all the effort of creating the review worthwhile, and I especially appreciated your point that a good review is an excellent substitute for a lack of liner notes.

        Julian

        Like

  2. I’m still a big enthusiast for Bright Size Life. Pat’s first album under his own name, I believe. Just him, Jaco and Bob Moses kicking it around. It doesn’t get much better than that. Has Pat written an autobiography?

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