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Jazz Legend Pat Metheny Breaks New Compositional Ground with Road to the Sun: March Release Featuring Los Angeles Guitar Quartet & Jason Vieaux in World Premiere Recordings of Two Metheny Chamber Suites

Legendary American jazz guitarist, composer and improviser Pat Metheny has already released more than 40 recordings, winning no fewer than 20 Grammys in a record-breaking ten different categories to date. Yet his next album, Road to the Sun, represents another bold new departure. Featuring the world premiere recordings of two substantial multi-movement suites by the artist, performed by five of today’s foremost classical guitarists, the new release marks Metheny’s recording debut as a chamber composer and the first on which he himself makes only a brief cameo. Due for release on March 5 by BMG’s Modern Recordings, the record entrusts his two compositions to their respective dedicatees: Jason Vieaux performs the solo guitar suite Four Paths of Light and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet interprets the title work, Road to the Sun, a piece hailed at the same ensemble’s world premiere performance as “a major addition to the guitar-quartet literature [that] was received by the audience with a standing ovation and rapturous applause” (San Francisco Classical Voice). Click here to see the LAGQ rehearse Metheny’s Road to the Sun with the composer in attendance.

See the LAGQ rehearse Metheny’s Road to the Sun with the composer in attendance.

As the National Endowment for the Arts observed, when conferring on him its 2018 Jazz Master Fellowship Award, it was Pat Metheny who “reinvented the traditional sound of jazz guitar, bringing a fresh sonic potential to the instrument while offering a deep reservoir of improvisational insight and musicality.” One of only four guitarists inducted into the Downbeat Hall of Fame, over the course of his exceptionally long and prolific career Metheny has collaborated with artists ranging from Ornette Coleman and Herbie Hancock to Steve Reich and John Zorn. Indeed, Reich wrote Electric Counterpoint for the guitarist, who gave its first performance at Brooklyn Academy of Music and recorded it for the composer’s Grammy-winning album Different Trains.

Blessed with what The Guardian calls his “complex and restlessly curious musical sensibility,” Metheny has never felt the need to conform to the constrictions of genre. In an illuminating liner note, he explains:

Pat Metheny (photo: Jimmy Katz)

“For me, music is one big thing. I never exactly know what people mean when I hear them talking about music based on what often seems to be a description of the more superficial components of one cultural aspect over another. Growing up in a fairly rural place during the time that I did, I didn’t have a very sophisticated awareness of why the Beatles should be thought of as something different from Bach or Ornette or Miles or Stravinsky, I just instinctively responded to how certain music was clearly great music.

“It was the greatness of what I heard in those artists and somehow the recognition of the masterful musical creativity that it represented that I responded to more than the social context that it arrived in. In some ways, I realize now, I was really naive. I was just a kid in rural Missouri who had to kind of learn everything on my own. But on the other hand, I am glad that I was able to react to music without exactly knowing at first the landscape or the politics of how it came to be. I have always tried to hang onto that way of being as a listener, even as I have gone on to fill in a lot of blanks.”

For Metheny, the key distinction between the current project and his previous work was the need to communicate all his compositional choices in writing. He says:

“Regarding both the LAGQ and Jason, I was very aware not only of their playing, but additionally, that the nature of their incredible talents and abilities required notated, non-improvised material. That tradition mandates that the composer details every single aspect of what is to be played on the page by generating notation that can be viewed and utilized by not just these performers, but eventually by other players in the future. That all describes the beauty of written, through-composed music. … For the most part previously, my focus has been on music designed to set up environments for improvising, elaborate as the arrangements may have been at times. These pieces are distinct from that. I took on the task of saying that not only are these pieces for these players, for this performance, but at any point in the future, folks should be able to play these pieces and get the complete story.”

Pat Metheny: Road to the Sun for guitar quartet

Pat Metheny, center, with Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (photo: Tara Stuart)

Bringing new energy to the concert hall in music from Bach to bluegrass for the past four decades, the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet (LAGQ) shares Metheny’s open-minded eclecticism. The four guitarists recorded his “Letter from Home” on their Grammy-winning 2004 album Guitar Heroes, and nine years later, after hearing them play live in Montana, Metheny was inspired to compose for them. This was the genesis of his new record’s centerpiece, Road to the Sun. He recalls:

“When I first started writing, the LAGQ guys suggested that they would be happy if it was even a five- or seven-minute piece. Before I knew it, I was in the midst of a nearly-30-minute six-movement treatise on what might be possible in a multi-guitar format. I found myself completely immersed in this incredible opportunity to imagine what these four exceptional guitarists could sound like addressing these notes.”

To meet the new challenge, Metheny worked closely with all four quartet members to understand their individual playing techniques, styles and idiosyncrasies. As a composer, however, his end goal remained unchanged. Committed to retaining “the kind of narrative, storytelling aspect of music” that consistently characterizes his work, he says:

“Much of what the piece represents to me is the idea of searching for the light in things – music in particular – and the journey that one has to make to get there.”

Both in its construction and this deeper meaning, the suite made a profound impression on the quartet. LAGQ member William Kanengiser comments:

Road to the Sun is one of the most important new works in the guitar quartet repertoire. Its sheer dimensions are impressive, with an almost symphonic use of color, mood contrast and thematic unity. But it also captures a very personal emotional expression from Pat, running the gamut from haunting atmospheric harmonies to luscious melodies. The formal architecture and intricate melodic development give it the structural integrity of serious classical composition, almost a modern equivalent of a Strauss tone-poem. But the language is vintage Pat Metheny. It’s one of the most ambitious and powerful pieces that we’ve ever played in our 40 years together.”

The quartet premiered Road to the Sun in 2016 at the University of Denver with Metheny in attendance, before reprising the work in Santa Barbara and New York. As they discovered, the classical media shared their positive response to the piece. Classical Guitar pronounced Road to the Sunquintessential Metheny from start to finish, yet perfectly adapted to classical guitar quartet,” and the San Francisco Classical Voice concluded:

“The result is an invigorating display of guitar composition incorporating techniques of folk-like strumming, tremolo, flutter strums, percussive tapping, intricate counterpoint, striking color changes, and call-and-response textures. The piece presents a continuous emotional journey recapping Metheny’s musical career. It is tightly constructed, with musical material being repeated and transformed throughout, and in the final section the opening theme returns before a quiet conclusion. It is a major addition to the guitar-quartet literature.”

Pat Metheny: Four Paths of Light for solo guitar

Jason Vieaux (photo: G M D THREE)

It was Grammy-winner Jason Vieaux, “perhaps the most precise and soulful classical guitarist of his generation” (NPR), who inspired Four Paths of Light, the through-composed, four-movement solo guitar suite that complements Road to the Sun on the new album. Metheny explains:

“I have followed the classical guitar world with interest, and from the first moment I heard Jason, which must be about 20 years ago now, he has been one of my favorite musicians. He stands as my favorite Bach interpreter on the guitar, and while he excels at playing passages that border on being technically impossible on the instrument, he also has the rare ability to make things that are simple have real meaning. His playing inspired me to write a piece that would hopefully challenge and inspire him in return.”

This admiration was mutual. Vieaux, who also looks forward to featuring the work in live performance, responds:

“It was kind of a dream of mine to work with Pat. Even though I know so many of his improvised solos by heart, the compositional aspect of his music was always the biggest factor. This work is a particularly special occasion for me. Whenever an artist of Pat’s significance writes not only a substantial work but a piece that requires real virtuosity to perform it, with his musical imprint all over it, it’s a big moment for classical guitar. I think this work really has a long life in the repertoire.”

Arvo Pärt: Für Alina for 42-string guitar

The recording concludes with what Metheny considers a “bonus track”: his own performance of his own transcription for 42-string guitar of Arvo Pärt’s Für Alina, the piano miniature with which the Estonian composer introduced his signature “tintinnabuli” style. Metheny says:

“I love his music. And although this is a well-known piano piece, for some reason when I first heard it, I imagined it on the 42-string, an unusual guitar/harp hybrid with its odd sustaining overtones and extended range. Transferred to this instrument, it was difficult to remain absolutely true to the literal constraints of Pärt’s tintinnabulum mandate, but as I took on the challenge of the piece, I found a clarifying direction in the composer’s note on the score that asks that the piece be performed ‘in a calm, uplifted manner, listening to one’s inner self.’ After all the structural complexities and the modulations and key changes of the two suites, there is something about the simple and haunting diatonic quality of this work that puts it in stark contrast with the rest of the program.”

Road to the Sun is already available for pre-order. Click here to learn more about Pat Metheny and here to download high-resolution photos.

Pat Metheny: Road to the Sun
Label: BMG’s Modern Recordings
Release date: March 5, 2021
Artists: Los Angeles Guitar Quartet, Jason Vieaux, Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny: Four Paths of Light (Jason Vieaux, guitar)
Pat Metheny: Road to the Sun (Los Angeles Guitar Quartet)
Arvo Pärt (arr. Metheny): Für Alina (Pat Metheny, Manzer 42-string Pikasso guitar)

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© 21C Media Group, February 2021


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