PAT METHENY GROUP - The PMG Companion, Vol. II: 1981 – 1982
‘The Travels Companion”
Welcome to Volume 2 of The PMG Companion, a series of compilations that gather together the best available versions of the many compositions the Pat Metheny Group has performed in its history that have not appeared on commercially available albums by the PMG. Included are unreleased originals, standards and covers, and PMG treatments of material Metheny has released outside the Group.
For this volume the criteria were expanded to allow for the inclusion of "bonus tracks" - live versions of songs that do have PMG studio recording counterparts. This approach, if contrary to the ground rules established for Volume 1, made it possible to compile "The Travels Companion." When you combine this two-disc set with the live double album Travels (recorded at various locations in 1982), you have at your fingertips a commercial quality recording of every piece of music the second lineup of the PMG performed in concert during its remarkably prolific two-year history.
In the second half of 1980, while the PMG were on a six-month hiatus from touring and in the process of making a change in personnel, and continuing through 1981 and 1982, a seemingly endless stream of inspired compositions flowed from the pens of Metheny and his frequent collaborator, Lyle Mays. Many of these pieces grew out of purposeful experimentation, the writers having made a conscious decision to push themselves into previously unexplored areas. Several of the new works were recorded by Metheny and Mays in September of 1980, with special guest percussionist/vocalist Nana Vasconcelos of Brazil, and released on the duo’s pivotal As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita falls in early 1981. Another album’s worth of new material would appear early in 1982, with the release of the re-formed PMG’s landmark Offramp (recorded in October of 1981 with original member Dan Gottlieb, new member Steve Rodby on bass, and Vasconcelos, returning as a special guest). Seven more compositions, recorded after the Offramp sessions, dominated the live Travels album. There were other songs performed in 1981 and 1982 that went unrecorded until years later, after they had been revisited and reworked, or that remain unreleased as of this writing. All of those are included here. The PMG Companion, Vol. 2, along with Metheny’s groundbreaking double album, 80/81 (recorded in May of 1980, between PMG tours of North America and Europe), Metheny’s and Mays’ As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, and the PMG’s Offramp and Travels albums, stand together as a testament to the tremendous growth of the composers during this period, and to a work ethic that, especially in Metheny’s case, continues to this day.
In much of their adventurous new material, Metheny and Mays were expressing themselves, sonically, in ways they never had before, as well. This was due to the almost simultaneous introduction of two revolutionary synthesizers, which the two are credited with having pioneered in live performance. No one in attendance at a 1981 PMG concert will soon forget his or her first exposure to the raw, trumpet-like cry of Metheny's new Roland GR-300 guitar synthesizer, which he would strap on early in the set for the full-throttled frenzy of his role in the Group’s soon-to-be-recorded tribute to Ornette Coleman, “Offramp.” A few songs later, Metheny would pick up the Roland again, this time to render, in a far more lyrical but equally spectacular fashion, a building passion and an exhilarating release that, heretofore, would have been impossible for him to convey in a like manner, in his and Mays’ mesmerizing tour de force “Are You Going With Me?” (featured on Offramp, and in a live version on Travels).
Mays, meanwhile, had added the computer-based Synclavier to his growing keyboard arsenal. A combination digital recording system and synthesizer, with a sampling rate much higher than the analog synthesizers of the day – higher than standard compact discs, in fact - it provided Mays with the ability to trigger pre-recorded backing tracks, or to synthesize, via the Synclavier’s keyboard, life-like recreations or imaginative permutations of any sound he and Metheny needed in order to fully realize their visions for their new compositions. Examples of such sampling choices included individual instruments (for instance, Mays’ “harmonica” solo in “Are You Going With Me?”), lush beds and orchestrations, and special effects, such as the circling helicopters, falling projectiles and multi-tracked manipulations of Vasconelos’ ethereal voice heard in live versions of “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls” (a version is included on Travels) and – minus the helicopters –
here, in the 1982 arrangement of “Mars.”
Metheny and Mays employed the new synthesizers judiciously, choosing to expand on the distinctive stylistic foundation they’d forged in the first incarnation of the PMG. They also countered their increased use of synthetic sounds with a greater number of organic ones: percussion, the human voice, and, most notably, the acoustic bass. Metheny’s and Mays’ integration of new instruments and technologies has continued in the years since, but, thanks to an adherence to their original philosophy, the practice has never altered that which, elementally, has made the music of the PMG so unmistakably their own. Before we get to the music, please join me in acknowledging the continued dedication of my partners in this endeavor, Charles Fredericks and Ted Foos. Charles brought the raw tracks (a fair number of them from 25-year old cassette tapes) to a state I didn't think possible when we began this project. Even though many of the tracks were taped using the same recording quipment from night to night, the physical condition and the audio properties of each tape – and, sometimes, even the sound engineer’s mixes – were, to understate it, inconsistent from tape to tape. Somehow, using the Travels masters as his guides, Charles brought all of these tracks into line with one another, so that they now sound "of a piece" when heard together. Ted was there with us all the way, listening in as the raw tracks were chosen and then as they underwent transformation. Once we'd reached the point where we could begin to envision the final product – when it was finally decided that the bonus tracks would be included and the sequencing of the discs was firmly established - Ted began the process of creating his comprehensive artwork package, which is every bit the worthy successor to the outstanding package he designed for The PMG Companion, Vol. 1. The three of us would like to extend a very special thanks to our new friend, Jay Vachon. A fan of Volume 1, and an audio engineer who specializes in restoration, Jay contacted us late in the process to offer any technical assistance we might need. Rather than “simply” achieve the near-impossible goals we set for him – most notably, to find a way to bring down the overbearing volume level of the acoustic bass in a few of the tracks without disturbing the volume levels or the tonal qualities of the other instruments – Jay kindly put every minute of every track under his microscope and made additional contributions whenever possible. Finally, we’d like to thank our dear friend of longstanding, fellow PMG fan Claudia Milesky. Back in 2002, Claudia presented us with a wondrous old shoebox full of 25-year old, off-brand cassette tapes. Extraordinary examples of not being able to judge books by their covers, these battered, brittle old tapes were dubs of cassettes recorded by the PMG from their own soundboard in 1981 and 1982. Charles transferred and then mastered the few complete shows we found in the box, and they were made available to collectors not long after the tapes were in our possession. These were the widely circulated 1982 Rochester, Michigan concert (well represented here) and the early and late 1982 Norman, Oklahoma shows (also represented here). One of the two cassettes was, sadly, missing from the other shows, but the uncut or otherwise unflawed performances we were able to cull from the tapes we did have greatly expanded the universe from which this collection could be compiled. The significance of Claudia’s gift to the overall quality of this compilation cannot be overstated.
All involved hope you will enjoy and value this addition to your PMG library. Please remember that volumes of The PMG Companion are never to be used for personal gain. Any attempts to sell copies via eBay or other means will be thwarted to the best of the abilities of the international PMG fan community, to whom this series is humbly dedicated.
Enjoy! (Jim Leonard ~ July 2006)
Pat Metheny: Guitars, Guitar Synthesizer, Synclavier Guitar prototype
Lyle Mays: Piano, Synthesizers, Organ, Autoharp, Synclavier
Steve Rodby: Acoustic and Electric Bass
Dan Gottlieb: Drums
Special guest Nana Vasconcelos: Percussion, Voice, Berimbau
01. Better Days Ahead (early version) (Metheny, or Metheny-Mays) 07:00 (Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, March 1, 1981)
Credited solely to Metheny when it finally appeared on the PMG’s 1989 album, Letter From Home, this early draft, performed only in the late-winter and spring of 1981, may have included ompositional input from Mays. Gone from the 1989 studio version and subsequent live performances was the fanfare-like bridge, which serves, first, as the introduction, and then reappears mid-song to preface Mays’ piano solo. Also gone was the delicate down-tempo section, heard just before the second appearance of the bridge. “Better Days Ahead” was the only new song performed in 1981 and 1982 to feature Rodby on the electric bass. Apart from the contributions of Vasconcelos, in its instrumentation (and, perhaps, from a compositional standpoint, as well) it is this piece, of the new ones, that is the most reminiscent of the music of the original PMG. On those nights when it appeared, “Better Days Ahead” was played second, after the traditional opener, “Phase Dance.” Of those available for inclusion, this - one of its first performances - was judged to be the “definitive” version.
02. The Windup (late-1981 arrangement) (Keith Jarrett) 07:43 (Victoria, British Columbia, November 7, 1981)
Although an exciting performance of this early PMG set list staple appeared on Volume 1, the Group’s late-1981 arrangement of “The Windup” merits inclusion here. Earlier in the year, performances began with an improvised guitar and percussion duet, which would segue directly into a full-ensemble statement of Jarrett’s demanding theme. By November, when the PMG emerged from studio sessions for the Offramp album to perform shows in northwestern North America and then Japan, a momentum-building, full-ensemble improvisation had been added to the introduction, between the guitar/percussion duet and the theme. This performance is one of the few available to feature the expanded introduction. It should be noted that “The Windup” had been used in the first years of the PMG as Mays’ piano feature in a three-part suite, linked to Metheny’s feature (usually “Unity Village”) by a solo guitar improvisation. By 1981 the song stood alone, and appeared far earlier in the set. “The Windup” was the second selection of the night, after “Phase Dance,” or the
third, on those occasions in the late-winter and spring of 1981 when the early version of “Better Days Ahead” was played.
03. Turnaround (Ornette Coleman) 08:25 (Seattle, Washington, November 9, 1981)
In May of 1980, Metheny recorded a trio version of this straight-ahead Ornette Coleman blues with Charlie Haden (bass) and Jack DeJohnette (drums) for his fourth Pat Metheny album, 80/81. Although it remained, for the most part, a vehicle for guitar trio when it was added to the PMG’s repertoire in 1981, Mays did contribute acoustic piano to the opening and closing theme statements. Rodby was given an extraordinary number of soloing opportunities (by PMG standards) during the 1981 and 1982 tours, and this performance of “Turnaround” features the first of a number of his bass solos to be found in this collection. Of the many versions available for inclusion, this one was chosen on the merits of Metheny’s and Rodby’s jubilant solos, and for having the added distinction of being the only performance in which Metheny can be heard providing the bassist with subtle structural support while he improvises. Metheny still favors “Turnaround” in trio and other outside-the-Group settings, sometimes using it to open concerts. He recorded a second studio version with saxophonist Joshua Redman, Haden, and drummer Billy Higgins for their 1993 album-length collaboration, Redman’s Wish.
04. Unidentified #6 (incorporating the theme to “Au Lait”) (Metheny-Mays) 18:05 (Providence, Rhode Island, March 11, 1981)
Although Metheny had already thrilled audiences with his new Roland GR-300 guitar synthesizer several times by this point in early-1981 concerts, this is the instrument’s first appearance here. Mays can also be heard for the first time in this collection – and to very good effect – making use of the capabilities of the Synclavier. How does one begin to describe this wacky, wonderful, shape-shifting monster, certainly one of the most peculiar long-form compositions in the PMG songbook? In its scope, and in its attempt to tie together a variety of disparate themes and forms – from Metheny blowing over the insistent swing of a John Lee Hooker-like boogie that morphs into a more straight-ahead jazz figure anchored by a walking bass line, into a section featuring a march rhythm (not unlike the one used in Letter From Home’s “Every Summer Night”), into another complete run-through of the opening movement (this time with Mays as the soloist), into the effective transition Gottlieb executes with his focused drum solo, into Mays’ haunting theme to “Au Lait” (which would be embellished by Metheny later in the year for the co-written version found on the Offramp album), into Rodby’s pathos-heavy acoustic bass solo (listen, also, for his humorous nod to Paul Chambers’ bass line to Miles Davis’ “All Blues” just before he invites the rest of the Group back to the proceedings), and back into the boogie again for the finale - it is this piece, more than any other, which foreshadows the approach Metheny and Mays would take when composing their 2005 album-length opus, “The Way Up.” Like the early draft of “Better Days Ahead,” “Unidentified #6” was performed only in the late-winter and spring of 1981.
05. Mas Alla (Beyond) (early version) (Metheny) 08:31 (Rochester, New York, June 26, 1981)
This beautiful ballad wouldn’t find its “voice” - or its title - for a couple of years, when Pedro Aznar joined the Group. Aznar, from Argentina, would write and sing (angelically) Spanish lyrics for Metheny’s melody, and the song in its final form would find just the right home as “Mas Alla (Beyond)” on the PMG’s 1984 album featuring Aznar, First Circle. More an effective “vocal colorist” than an accomplished singer like Aznar, Vasconcelos struggles with Metheny’s melody in this early version, for which he wrote lyrics in his native language, Portuguese. Perhaps due to his inability to fulfill Metheny’s aspirations for the piece, this performance is one of only two known attempts during Vasconcelos’ two-year stay with the Group. The Roland, the Synclavier, and the berimbau (on which Vasconcelos mimics wildlife sounds, like those heard the following year in the pastoral “Farmers Trust”) figure prominently.
06. (It's Just) Talk (early version) (Metheny) 07:17 (St. Louis, Missouri, July 20, 1982)
Most of the raw ingredients of what would become “(It’s Just) Talk” on the PMG’s 1987 album, Still Life (Talking), are here, but the song wouldn’t be finished until Metheny and Mays were writing the film soundtrack to John Schlesinger’s political thriller, The Falcon And The Snowman, and trying to come up with a theme for one of its main characters, Daulton Lee. (The composers ended up writing another, more appropriate theme for Daulton.) Unlike the studio recording, which includes a piano solo, Metheny is the lone soloist in performances of the early version. Vasconcelos is heard on congas, accentuating the tune’s Latin flavor. The early version of “(It’s Just) Talk” appeared occasionally in the summer and fall of 1982. Of the performances available for inclusion, this one was chosen for featuring Metheny’s most lyrical improvising, which commences almost immediately and continues for most of the song.
07. More Kansas City (Metheny) 09:41 (Berkeley, California, July 30, 1982)
Also introduced in the summer of 1982, “More Kansas City” (sometimes incorrectly identified on collector’s set lists as “K.C. Blues”) is a swinging tribute to the storied jazz-centric Missouri city near Metheny’s hometown of Lee’s Summit. The young guitarist appeared on many an accomplished musician’s Kansas City bandstand while still in high school, and credits those experiences with aiding in his rapid development. Like “Turnaround,” this blues is primarily a vehicle for guitar trio, with Mays contributing to the opening and closing theme statements. Again, it features an acoustic bass solo by Rodby with support from Metheny, who chords softly while the bassist improvises.
“More Kansas City” was performed sporadically through the end of the 1984 First Circle tour, after which it disappeared from the Group’s set lists. Like the PMG’s cover of Keith Jarrett’s “The Windup” and “Unidentified #6,” it remains unreleased. Metheny did revive the tune in 1993 for his tour with Joshua Redman, but it did not appear on Wish, their accompanying commercial release.
08. Six And Eleven (Metheny, or Metheny-Mays) 08:37 (New York, New York, November 24, 1982)
Still another composition that remains unreleased, this exercise in equal parts abandon and finesse was performed only in October and November of 1982, at the same concerts that introduced “Travels,” “Extradition,” “Farmers Trust,” “Goodbye,” “The Fields, The Sky” and “Straight On Red” (all of which - along with “Song For Bilbao,” introduced earlier in the year - can be found on Travels). It’s a fascinating piece. After the Group’s precise ensemble playing of the tricky theme, Mays lays out while Metheny shreds on the Roland a la “Offramp,” with Rodby and Gottlieb providing propulsive rhythmic support. Rodby eventually falls away, too, leaving Gottlieb’s muscular drumming to serve as Metheny’s lone accompaniment. Towards the end of Metheny’s solo Rodby returns, and then Mays re-enters for the second theme statement and his piano solo. One of the most interesting aspects of the composition is that, while Metheny takes things pretty far “outside” during his solo, Mays chooses to play it straight during his turn, revealing the “inside” characteristics at the heart of the piece. The title may be a reference to the traditional broadcast times of local TV ewscasts in U.S.A.cities. At the time the piece was written, Metheny was involved in a romantic relationship with a reporter for WBZ-TV in Boston, Massachusetts.
01. Broadway Blues (Ornette Coleman) 07:30 (Rochester, Michigan, July 14, 1982)
“Broadway Blues” appeared on Metheny’s 1976 debut, Bright Size Life (with Jaco Pastorius, bass, and Bob Moses, drums), but it wasn’t until 1982 that the PMG performed it on stage. All of the other songs on Bright Size Life (except “Omaha Celebration,” which Metheny did play occasionally as part of an improvised solo guitar medley) had been given the Group treatment during the years of the original lineup, and performances of each appeared on Volume 1. In the summer of 1982, “Broadway Blues” replaced “The Windup” in the set and was given a close-to-identical arrangement - introduced, as was “The Windup,” by an improvised guitar and percussion duet. Of the versions available for inclusion, this performance features one of Mays’ most memorable solo piano improvisations, distinguished by its inventive variations on Coleman’s theme.
02. solo Synclavier guitar prototype improvisation (Metheny) 03 :22 >
03. Mars (later retitled Close To Home) (1982 arrangement) (Mays) 12:20 (Norman, Oklahoma, July 22, 1982, late show)
On the summer 1982 tour, “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls,” and the stage-setting solo guitar improvisation that preceded it, were replaced in the set list by this pairing. Mays’ “Mars” was given the full Wichita treatment, going so far into Wichita territory as to use the same type of swirling, Synclavier-generated chords in its new introduction that we hear at the end of the studio version of “Wichita.” Perhaps “Mars,” written in 1979, was originally intended to be side two of Metheny’s and Mays’ joint studio venture. Even its title, and the title “Close To Home” that Mays gave it when he recorded it for his debut album, can be interpreted to support this theory (if one views Mars as a possible home for Earth’s inhabitants, after Earth “falls”). Connected or not, this poignant reading stands as the “definitive” performance of the 1982 Wichita-like arrangement of “Mars.” Metheny had begun using the portable, computer-based Synclavier as a mobile “recording studio” and composing tool in 1981. From the beginning, he was interested in working with New England Digital to develop a fret board-controlled system, similar to Mays’ keyboard-controlled system, which would allow it to be used in live performance. By the summer of 1982, New England Digital was sending Metheny prototypes to try out on the road. The first attempt had no strings - it as played by tapping the neck with both hands, in the technique popularized by guitarist Stanley Jordan- and it didn’t work properly when Metheny’s hands were sweating. Subsequent prototypes had strings, but it wasn’t until later in the year, when New England Digital created an interface for the Roland, that the Synclavier guitar was born. What we hear here is almost certainly one of the prototypes with strings. For the summer 1982 concerts, Metheny used the Synclavier guitar prototype to play “vibes,” and improvised a lead-in to “Mars” that was similar in effect to those he’d played on electric guitar as a lead-in to “Wichita.” By happy coincidence, this exquisite performance of “Mars” is prefaced by one of Metheny’s most melodious improvisations.
04. James (Metheny-Mays) 08:33 (Burlington, Vermont, March 12, 1981)
What makes this performance of “James” such a rarity is that, of the many played in 1981 and 1982, this is the only available version to include the Mays-composed introduction that opens the Offramp studio recording. The introduction serves as the perfect launching pad for this tribute to the music of James Taylor, and, perhaps due to its inclusion here, this performance comes closest to capturing the special, relaxed feel of the studio version.
05. Offramp (Metheny-Mays) 08:32 (Rochester, New York, June 26, 1981)
As previously noted in the foreword, “Offramp” was 1981 audiences’ first exposure to Metheny’s new Roland GR-300 guitar synthesizer. A tribute to Ornette Coleman and the impact of his revolutionary harmolodic theory, the piece does have an underlying structure that, among other things, allows the ensemble to start and stop on a dime each time the difficult, precision-intensive theme rolls around. Mays, by way of the Synclavier, doubles Metheny’s Roland during the theme statements, and the two instruments sound so much alike as to be practically indistinguishable. While most performances were characterized by Metheny’s blazing, pedal-to-the-metal Roland blowouts, this version was chosen for inclusion on the basis of his solo, especially in the early going, having more of a lyrical quality, with a greater emphasis on phrasing. (Listen for his short, playful reference to Coleman’s “Broadway Blues.”) Another interesting difference is the almost hesitant way in which the Group coalesces again after Rodby’s “free” solo, finally playing the first chorus of the closing theme statement in what sounds like half time. Gottlieb seems to have been particularly moved by this version of “Offramp." This is the only performance of the many available in which he adds an “exclamation point” (an extra snare shot) after its dead-stop conclusion.
06. "It's For You" (Metheny-Mays) (07:35 (Rochester, Michigan, July 14, 1982)
Here’s the “definitive” full-Group performance of a fan favorite from Metheny’s and Mays’ As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. The most notable difference between the Metheny/Mays/Vasconcelos studio version and the live PMG arrangement - in that Metheny contributed a bass track to the studio recording - is the always welcome presence of Gottlieb’s drumming. Live versions, of course, also featured a satisfying resolution, whereas the studio version fades while Metheny is still soloing. The widely circulated Rochester, MI show exhibited the best sound when choosing some of the raw tracks for this compilation, and, in the case of this tune, Metheny’s acoustic guitar, heard in the opening sections, had a fuller, more natural sound than other contenders. This performance, happily, also features one of Metheny’s most exhilarating “It’s For You” solo flights.
07. The Bat part II (Metheny-Mays) 04:08 >
08. solo berimbau improvisation (Vasconcelos) 02 :23 >
09. Ozark (Metheny-Mays) 04:54 (Norman, Oklahoma, July 22, 1982, early show)
Since 1978, a PMG concert wouldn’t have been complete without one of their trademark three-part suites. In 1981 and 1982, “The Bat part II” (found on Offramp) and “Ozark” (found on As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls) were linked by a solo berimbau improvisation. An instrument of amazing versatility in a master’s hands, Vanconcelos’ berimbau figured prominently in the studio versions of both pieces. The Group’s re-imagining of a composition Metheny had recorded with Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette and saxophonists Dewey Redman and Michael Brecker for 80/81, “The Bat part II,” is a reflective, through-composed piece, and was played virtually the same way every night. This performance of the suite was chosen on the strength of Vasconcelos’ berimbau
improvisation and for Mays’ beautiful piano solo in the rolling “Ozark.”
10. Jaco (1981-1982 arrangement) (Metheny) 06:01 (Rochester, Michigan, July 14, 1982)
A new arrangement of “Jaco” made it’s debut in 1981 and, by the summer of 1982, appeared as the last song of the set proper, before the encores. It features a faster tempo, altered instrumentation, a yelping Vasconcelos, a mid-song drums and congas duet, and a new section, heard before the false ending, that recalls Weather Report’s “Birdland.” Another point of difference is the absence of a guitar solo. Instead, as befits the song’s namesake, Rodby is the lone soloist, this time on electric bass. Rather than take a decidedly Jaco-like approach, Rodby plays a string-popping solo on a bass guitar with frets. This perennial favorite from 1978’s eponymous Pat Metheny Group album was retired from PMG set lists in late 1982 with the introduction of “Straight On Red” (found on Travels), which employed the same type of mid-song interlude for drums and percussion.
11. (Cross The) Heartland (Metheny-Mays) 07:29
12. American Garage (Metheny-Mays) 03:37 (Rochester, Michigan, July 14, 1982)
These two favorites from 1979’s American Garage album were used as the encores (or, as the final encores, once “Song For Bilbao,” found on Travels, was introduced) in 1981 and 1982. Again, the Rochester, Michigan show provides the “definitive” performances with which to close this compilation.
Compilation - Jim Leonard
Remastering – Charles Fredericks and Jay Vachon
Graphics – Ted Foos
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