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Pat Methany group gives exhuberant Boston performance

THE PAT METHENY GROUP

At the Orpheum Theatre.

Thursday, September 28.

By PETER PARNASSA

AT THE HALFWAY POINT OF A six-month world tour, the Pat Metheny Group returned to their hometown of Boston for a delightful concert on Thursday night. The crowd at the Orpheum was treated to a two and one-half hour performance which included old favorites such as "Phase Dance" as well as hits from Metheny's latest effort, Letter from Home.

In concert, the Metheny Group plays with a spontaneity which is impossible to capture on record. At the Orpheum show, the group loosened up their arrangements and even played an untitled song which they had recently written. These measures enabled the band to maintain their freshness and intensity after three months on the road.

While all the musicians were exceptional, the standout, of course, was guitarist-songwriter Pat Metheny. A legend in the jazz guitar community for 13 years, Metheny has always pushed himself for the benefit of his music. Although Metheny's technical skills are awesome, he understands that they must be used for, not as, music. This is particularly refreshing in an age when many guitarists play flashy scales simply to show off their abilities. In fact, on songs like "Last Train Home" and "Spring Ain't Here" (the latter he dedicated to Wes Montgomery and Stanley Turrentine), Metheny showed the power that simple melodic phrases can carry. On more aggressive numbers, such as "Have You Heard," Metheny played imaginatively, never repeating the same run twice.

The other band members, particularly keyboardist Lyle Mays, provided Metheny with excellent accompaniment. Mays has been a member of the Metheny Group since its inception in 1978 and plays a prominent role in many of the arrangements. Metheny and Mays are undoubtedly one of the most effective pairings in music today and this was evidenced in concert by their beautiful duet on "Letter from Home."

Another strength of the Metheny-Mays pairing is their use of synthesizers in music. In recent years, there has been a debate in the music community as to the appropriateness of synthesizers in concert, irrespective of the good intentions of the musicians. Metheny's horn-like synth-guitar solo on a new untitled track was an example of this. It was stimulating to hear Metheny play in the style of one of his idols, Ornette Coleman, using Coleman's distinctive sound. There was nothing remotely inappropriate about this performance.

An impressive aspect of this concert was the song selection. The band was able to change back and forth easily between styles as diverse as Brazilian samba, Ornette Coleman-style free jazz, and jazz-rock. The samba numbers, which included "Beat 70" from the new album, were highlighted by the rhythm work of drummer Paul Wertico and percussionists Armando Marcal and Pedro Aznar. Aznar's role in the band seemed to be the most confusing aspect of the concert. On some numbers he provided wordless vocals which matched Metheny's melodic lines (similar to the style of pop-jazz star George Benson). This arrangement seemed like an overused gimmick on an acoustic guitar, but Aznar was almost inaudible in the mix.

Pat Metheny live in concert or at home on record is an experience worth having. On Thursday night, he was enjoying himself thoroughly and his exuberance could not help but rub off on his bandmates and the audience. At one point in the concert, when he was announcing that the band would play a new untitled song, an audience member screamed out "it's great." In his soft-spoken voice, Metheny answered, "No, it's nothing special. We just like playing it." That anecdote, without a doubt, is the Pat Metheny success story. For years, Metheny has been working hard to play the music he loves. It's great to see him finally achieve some success with a larger audience.