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Downbeat Blindfold Test: Pat Metheny
It is a sure indication of success when an artist finds himself accused of having sold out to Mammon. It is a sure bet he hasn't when his response is to stretch his chops, conception and audience. Pat Metheny is such an artist.

I doubt that Metheny can fairly be said to have sacrificed any of his values, either with the admirable group he has headed for three years with Lyle Mays, Mark Egan and Danny Gottlieb, or on his ECM two-fer _80/81_, with Charlie Haden, Dewey Redman, Mike Brecker and Jack DeJohnette. Metheny won a _db_ scholarship to the National Stage Band Camp at age 14; within a very few years he became a teacher there, then at University of Miami, and subsequently at Berklee College, where (at 19) he joined the faculty upon Gary Burton's invitation. He later toured with Burton's band, remaining for three years before beginning his own Pat Metheny Group.

Metheny shows signs of becoming to the '80s the kind of influential force that John McLaughlin was in the '70s. On his first Blindfold Test, Pat had no information on records played.

LEE RITENOUR. MARGARITA (from CAPTAIN FINGERS, Epic). Ritenour guitars, composer.

I'm sorry to say l don't know who that was. Typical of a lot of records by younger guitar players these days, the guy's obviously a real good player. It reminded me of Robben Ford a bit, somebody who is more or less a studio player who may have made a record.

It didn't seem he had a real individual voice, which is what I'm primarily concerned with when I listen. I like to say, within a note or two, 'Wow, that's somebody who has his own distinctive approach.'

I can think of ten people it might have been. And it's not so much for the playing as for the sound aspect. On a solid body guitar put through an amplifier turned way up, it's very difficult to distinguish one player from the next. The same problem is true of a Rhodes piano; you're dealing with a highly electronic sound and the only things that can make it distinctive are the note choices and the phrasing.

I didn't notice anything unique about this record. Three stars.

CHARLIE BYRD. JITTERBUG WALTZ (from BLUE BYRD, Concord Jazz). Byrd, guitar; Joe Byrd, bass; Wayne Phillips, drums; Fats Waller composer.

I recognized the tune - I can't remember, something like _Butterfly Waltz_ or _Jitterbug Waltz_. I remember scuffling through this tune early in my career with Ira Sullivan, and having to learn it real quick on a bandstand one night, because it was one of his favorites to play.

The guitar player might be Charlie Byrd; as a classic guitar in the setting with bass and drums, he's used that format for a long time, I know. But it seemed much more aggressive than I would normally think of Charlie Byrd.

It sounded recorded in an unusual way, possibly direct-to-disc. The guitar sound was really different than I have heard classic guitar recorded. I'm not sure I liked it, either; it sounded a little bit compressed. The rhythm section wasn't really happening somehow - it didn't seem like they were functioning as a group as much as I would have liked if it was me playing. I'm very much involved with playing with the people in the band as closely as a unit as we can.

It's very difficult to play guitar, bass and drums, and this particular player's approach was to fill it out as much as possible. My inclination is, when it is guitar, bass and drums, to approach it more like horn, bass and drums, as opposed to making it like a piano trio with guitar instead.

It's not exactly my kind of thing; I'd give it two stars.

RALPH TOWNER. IMAGES UNSEEN (from DIARY, ECM). Towner, 12-string classical guitars, composer.

That's unmistakably Ralph Towner, somebody I hold in high esteem for what I was talking about earlier, the ability to find your own voice on the instrument. This is from _Diary_, which was his solo record.

I have been knocked out with Ralph ever since _I Sing The Body Electric_, which was his guitar debut on a Weather Report album years ago. The first time I heard that I was stunned. I'd never heard anybody play anything even remotely similar, let alone improvise with such freedom on a 12-string guitar, which is one of the most cumbersome instruments, very difficult to play. I'm always amazed at Ralph's flexibility and the power he can get. He's got incredible touch.

Also, although this was obviously a free tune, I see Ralph as one of the best composers around; his songs are incredible little gems of musical logic. Every time I hear a new piece he's written, I say to myself, 'Why didn't I think of that?' The way he resolves chords and goes from place to place harmonically is really amazing.

The first time I heard _The Body Electric_ and also a duo record he did with Glen Moore on ECM, l had a vision of this morose, monk-like person sitting in a dark chamber playing this weird guitar, when in fact Ralph is one of the goofiest personalities around, almost the exact opposite of what you'd think from his music.

JOHN McLAUGHLIN/CARLOS SANTANA. FRIENDSHIP (from JOHNNY MCLAUGHLIN, ELECTRIC GUITARIST, Columbia).

Sounds like Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin together, both of whom l hold in high regard, for finding their own voices.

McLaughlin to me is the most important, certainly the most influential voice in the last decade on the guitar, without a doubt. In a way, he's been misrepresented by his imitators; so many people have jumped on his bandwagon that we sometimes forget what an amazing contribution he made. He really turned things around; there's hardly a young player around that doesn't play like him. I find that a bit distressing; l try to avoid it, as much as I love his playing. It's almost a cliche, that real fast playing. But the missing element is his incredible soulful feeling. It's more than the notes, more than he's the fastest gun ... it's that he's an incredibly dynamic, strong personality on his instrument; the same for Carlos Santana.

Again, he's one of the strongest voices around--you can tell it's him in two notes. I admire both of them and I really like this performance; it was so loose, and almost free-sounding. The beginning reminded me of an Ornette Coleman thing, sort of approximate unison a little out of tune. I'd give that five stars. That's some of the best I've heard from either one of them.

KENNY BURRELL. BODY AND SOUL (from WHEN LIGHTS ARE LOW, Concord Jazz).

Really excellent. I think that was Ed Bickert ... if not, someone influenced by Jim Hall.

That tune is extremely difficult to play because of its legacy. You instantly imagine a saxophone playing that melody, always; Coleman Hawkins. It's extremely difficult to introduce an element of breath to the guitar kind of like piano, but with piano you have the advantage of the sustain pedal. With the guitar, once you hit a note, it's gonna die. To play a ballad, especially with just guitar, bass and drums, is one of the hardest things. This guy really pulled it off. Also, the element of swing and time and that stuff I was talking about earlier was really clear and strong. I'd give that five stars.

That tune is extremely difficult to play because of its legacy. You instantly imagine asaxophone playing that melody, always; Coleman Hawkins. It's extremely difficult to introduce an element of breath to the guitar kind of like piano, but with piano you have the advantage of the sustain pedal. With the guitar, once you hit a note, it's gonna die. To play a ballad, especially with just guitar, bass and drums, is one of the hardest things. This guy really pulled it off. Also, the element of swing and time and that stuff I was talking about earlier was really clear and strong. I'd give that five stars.

LARRY CORYELL. TORONTO UNDER THE SIGN OF CAPRICORN (from GUITAR PLAYER, MCA).

That reminded me of something Larry Coryell might do. I had trouble getting into it. It didn't seem like there was any real structure or form, and the improvising didn't seem to go any place, it didn't seem to have much direction to it. The guitars were recorded very poorly in my opinion; you couldn't get the feel of the instrument, which made it even more difficult for me to understand what was supposed to happen.

I just didn't understand it; no stars.

Downbeat, Volume 48, No. 2, February 1981, introduction by Leonard Feather
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