Festival International de Jazz de Montreal 2005, Day 8, July 7, 2005
In addition to being one of the largest jazz festivals in the world, the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is one of the safest and most friendly. There can be tens of thousands of people on the street for the many free shows each evening, and yet the vibe is festive, and there are rarely (if ever) any signs of the kinds of trouble that often happen when that many people collect in a concentrated space.
And the audiences are amongst the most appreciative as well. That's one of the reasons why so many artists return to the festival year after year; and this time, with the long overdue return of guitarist Pat Metheny, the crowds are even more enthusiastic than usual. At his 6 pm Theatre Maissoneuve show, a duet concert where bassist Charlie Haden and Metheny recreated the gentle ambience of their '96 release Beyond the Missouri Sky, Hadenfollowing a thunderous and relentless standing ovation that convinced them to return for one final tune after their relatively short eighty-minute settold the audience "I love you, Pat loves you, we love youthis is the best jazz festival in the world."
The set began with Metheny performing a solo version of "Last Train Home" on baritone acoustic guitar. Just as he reworked this vintage Pat Metheny Group song on his '03 Grammy Award-winning solo album One Quiet Night, here he reinvented it as to be nearly unrecognizable until close to its conclusion.
Haden then came onstage and the duo performed a number of pieces from Beyond the Missouri Sky, with highlights being the tender "Message to a Friend" and "First Song," and the Midwestern folk vibe of "The Precious Jewel." In contrast to Metheny's more muscular playing at the first two of his By Invitation Series shows the past two evenings, here he was more sparingly lyrical. Still, like his playing earlier this week, it evidenced some kind of leap forward; in addition to rich self-accompaniment, he's evolving an even more advanced way of constantly and subtly shifting the rhythmic emphasis to widen his material's scope.
But the standout song of the set was "Farmer's Trust," arguably the most beautiful and memorable ballad Metheny has written in his thirty-year career. Characteristic of much of Metheny's writing, the tune's apparent simplicity belies a more complex set of changes that only really works if melodies can be built to pass through them seamlessly. Despite the fact that it has been recorded and performed often, Metheny effortlessly shifted between chordal passages and graceful linear phrases, managing to find new things to say with a song that never becomes stale.
Haden provided a simple but effective foundation, more about sparse melodies than superfluous displays. He's never been the kind of virtuosic soloist that, for example, Dave Holland often can be, aiming instead for the right note at the right moment with the right articulation. But in this setting he was even more stripped down than usual. Listeners hearing Haden here for the first time might wonder what all the excitement is about, but in the broader context of both his career and his folk and country upbringing, his playing makes perfect sense.
Metheny and Haden clearly share a bond that extends beyond the music, clearly enjoying themselves throughout the set. Having both grown up in Missouri, there's a cultural and experiential tie that links them in a very special way. And while the set was short, in the context of Metheny's residence at the festival this year, it offered a window on yet another aspect of his multifaceted talent: one that, in its innocent elegance, has drawn a lot of fans to other sides of his broad musical concerns.
One of the things apparent throughout his residence is that Metheny truly loves what he's doing, so much so that he keeps up a pace that would shatter a lot of other players. Shortly after his show with Haden, Metheny went on to participate in an interview and open question and answer session with the host of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's weekly Jazz Beat show, Katie Malloch. Part of the festival's new Montreal Musician and Musical Instrument Show (MMMIS), the session took place in Place des Art's 400-seat Cinquieme Salle, where tickets were free but required. It provided a chance to see up close how Metheny may be natural and unassuming, but is also an artist with strong beliefs about the state of jazz today and the role of a leader in a group.