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What's It All About

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Album Review

The jazz tradition has long taken pop songs, reimagined and reinvented them harmonically and rhythmically and re-presented them as vehicles for improvisation. Pat Metheny has done something different on What's It All About, his second Nashville-tuned baritone acoustic guitar record (with a handful of other acoustic instruments and no overdubs, but there are edits). Here he performs ten pop songs that have long been part of his personal arcana and recorded them so that we might hear what's inside these songs — as songs. Recorded on a single day in February of 2011, Metheny interprets well-known songs by Paul Simon, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Lennon & McCartney, Henry Mancini, the Ventures, Burt Bacharach, Paul Williams, Terry Kirkman, Carly Simon, Thom Bell, and others across the pop spectrum. His approach is deliberate; his interest is in the subtlety of melody; its nuance, and mystery; he finds the places he hears inside the music before these songs even begin, or just after they end, through a unique series of tunings he employs between A-flat and C. "The Sound of Silence" opens the set by suggesting the tones of a Japanese koto in its intro (courtesy of his 42-string Pikasso guitar). When the melody commences, its languorous richness and rhythmic balance are so perfect, we hear it not only as the pop song we remember by Simon & Garfunkel, but as a lyric invention that is almost magical in its possibility. The version of Kirkman's "Cherish" (a big hit by the Association), is equally profound. He finds the space where the human voice inserts itself in the harmonic structure and opens it with his guitar. There is slightly more improvisation in "Alfie," but it's open, spacious, and full of hinted-at dimensions in the crafting of the song's parameters. "Girl from Ipanema," played as a skeletal, impressionistic ballad, uncovers suggestions of darker melodies inside. He pulls out both the implied elegance in "That's the Way I've Always Heard It Should Be," and the quietly majestic variety of it in "Rainy Days and Mondays." "Betcha by Golly, Wow" stands as a revelation: its inventive harmonics and syncopations are inherent in the tune's basic architecture. In closer "And I Love Her" are the direct implications of bossa that Lennon and McCartney had no doubt taken note of at the time. Ultimately, What's It All About is an intimate work revealing Metheny's investigation of composition itself. The notion of song is inherent in everything he does, and he reveals that inspiration in spades here.

Customer Reviews

Pat does it again!

Pat Metheny never ceases to amaze me. The man is an absolute genius. He is as technically facile as he is soulful. His lyricism is second to none and his phrasing is impeccable. The man can make a single phrase last three weeks without repeating a single idea, and the last note is just as relevant as the first. At first sight this may seem like a simple cover album; another filler from a washed out old musician searching for a new audience. But Pat brings a freshness to these tunes by giving them a familiar yet unexpected treatment. The sound and style are vintage Metheny, but the context in which these tunes are presented brings out new life and vitality to each, and offers the listener an entirely new perspective on some not-so-standard covers. The Sound of Silence, on Metheny's now legendary Pikasso guitar, is absolutely haunting. It's perhaps an ironic twist that this particular tune is presented within the full force of a forty-two stringed, three necked, wall of sound. If you're not familiar with the Pikasso, look it up, then find a video of Pat playing it. It will blow you away! The Ventures' classic Pipeline has long been considered a standard among guitar repertoire. It has become synonymous with the infamous surf sound of the 50's and 60's, and is perhaps the epitome of organic, raw, unabashed rock-and-roll guitar... But in Pat's hands it becomes a whirling, swirling, curling dervish that encapsulates the image of the pipeline as vividly as any photograph could. I assure you, you have never heard it done like this! One might expect the cheese factor to get a bit high, when included are such tunes as Bacharach's Alfie, the Carpenters' Rainy Days and Mondays, or The Association's one hit wonder Cherish. But Metheny is quite clever in his adaptation of every song on this album. So clever that the casual listener can appreciate this album as much as the ever-faithful Metheny enthusiast. It is certain that the most hard-core jazz nazi (please forgive the pejorative, I too am a jazz musician) could find fault in this recording. Even with the inclusion of the Monk standard 'Round Midnight, the album does have a somewhat etherial tone, not unlike that of One Quiet Night. But Pat has never been one to kowtow to the jazz purist. His music is as much about entertainment as it is art. Each note is a brushstroke on an almost unworldly soundscape that envelopes listeners and transports them into another dimension; one full of sound, and texture, and colour, and life. This album is pure joy, with a tinge of melancholy. It encompasses the gamut of emotions, with which we can all relate. What's It All About is yet another masterpiece in the vast lexicon of perhaps the greatest guitarist of this, or any, generation. And while it may indeed help him reach an even wider audience, his music remains as brilliant as ever. Of course, that's just my opinion, I could be wrong.

just gorgeous

what else can you say? if this doesnt make you feel, you cant feel...

Pat is an amazing musician, but.......

Having been a musician myself for 30 years, I can't say enough about Pat's incredible mastery and trend-setting work. He is a master in every respect. This music is probably more personal, meant for quiet times. It literally puts me to sleep. Again, not one ounce of disrespect for Pat's skills. I should live so long as to have one quarter of his gifts. This CD however, is not something I would purchase myself. With that said, I look forward to his next releases, especially those with his group.....always my favorites of his work.


Born: August 12, 1954 in Lee's Summit, MO

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

One of the most original guitarists from the '80s onward (he is instantly recognizable), Pat Metheny is a chance-taking player who has gained great popularity but also taken some wild left turns. His records with the Pat Metheny Group are difficult to describe (folk-jazz? mood music?) but manage to be both accessible and original, stretching the boundaries of jazz and making Metheny famous enough that he could perform whatever type of music he wanted without losing his audience. Metheny (whose...
Full Bio
What's It All About, Pat Metheny
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  • $11.99
  • Genres: Jazz, Music, Contemporary Jazz
  • Released: Jun 14, 2011

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