This collection series from ECM is a reversal of what many labels do when it comes to putting out compilations. Rather than asking the artists what they would like on the album, or at least getting some input, big labels usually put out hits package without contacting said artists. ECM has decided to get the goods straight from the horse’s mouth in the case of jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. Metheny, who covers the years 1975 to 1984 on this album, selects tracks that are personal and fan favorites. And the opening “Bright Size Life”, taken from the 1975 album of the same name, is a very fine start. Metheny, along with bassist Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses, create a subtle and relaxing bit of jazz that opens with each member playing an important part. Driven by Metheny’s trademark style, the song flows easily during the opening minutes, with Metheny slowly taking control of the song. A young man at the time of this recording, Metheny sounds like a well-oiled veteran.
The nine-track album, which leisurely clocks in at over 70 minutes, continues with “Phase Dance” from Pat Metheny Group. Accompanied by pianist and keyboard player Lyle Mays, the fluidity of the song gets a bit jerky two minutes in as drummer Dan Gottlieb comes into the mix, disrupting the near telepathic creation both Mays and Metheny have created. While Gottlieb is still riding on the waves previously created, the drum fills tend to give the track more of a rushed, laid back, Jeff Beck circa Blow By Blow or Wired sound. Thankfully, Metheny and Mays rein the song back in to give it more of that sonic give and take. It’s the type of song that will make you go to sleep, and that is far from being a knock against it. Soothing to a fault, despite the rather over-the-top finale.
“New Chautauqua” is an acoustic guitar-driven song that instantly recalls the likes of Dire Straits and Mark Knopfler. Recorded after a three-month trek in Europe during 1978, the song sounds as if Metheny wants to go back to the States on a train as quickly as possible. The galloping, troubadour guitar style layered above more intricate chord work and accented by electric guitars is very strong and pleasing to the ear. The guitarist did all the work himself on this one, and it has a certain country-tinged punch or oomph to it not found thus far on the album. The abrupt change of styles marks the opening of “Airstream”, recalling a Steely Dan adult contemporary staple from the opening 10 to 15 seconds. However, it glides into a dusty, blues-based guitar and barroom piano style before weaving back and forth between the two. The listener might want to break out into a Christopher Cross vocal more than once on this generally strong effort.
The centerpiece of the album also happens to dwarf the other tracks in terms of length. The 13-minute opus that is “Everyday (I Thank You)” opens with a different arrangement and style than previous tracks. Here, Charlie Haden, and particularly Mike Brecker, on double-bass and tenor saxophone respectively, give this tune a much different and richer jazz feeling. It’s as if Metheny has given control over to Brecker for the first part before taking it into more of an acoustic lullaby framework. Light and very sparse at the same time, drummer Jack DeJohnette adds just enough fills and cymbals to make it all soar far beyond what it should. Brecker returns, but by now it is far more balanced. The middle portions seem to be filler, which might be an obvious statement given the length of the tune. Brecker tends to go off the deep end on more than one occasion, literally and figuratively blowing his own horn. The extremes don’t work as well, however, with Metheny under-emphasizing his acoustic performance near the conclusion.
Metheny’s ’80/’81 period also included “It’s for You”, a very simple yet elegant tune that features Nana Vasconcelos on vocals, giving the song a totally different tone compared to the generally instrumental record. It also contains a certain Peruvian aura to it for some strange but eclectic reason. “Are You Going with Me” also has Vasconcelos, but with far more experimentation by way of a guitar synthesizer. The live recording from Philadelphia in 1982 is at times cinematic, but also a tad cheesy at others. The Latin percussion and Jan Hammer aura gives it more of a “Miami Vice” feeling. The noodling courtesy of the guitar synthesizer doesn’t work all that well if at all.
“The First Circle” is another refreshing change that contains a series of handclaps and Pedro Aznar on vocals, percussion, and even bells. The Celtic-cum-world sound is very pretty, particularly when the bells chime in. After “Lonely Woman”, most fans of Metheny and newcomers to his music will be easily won over. This is a solid compilation from a body of work that has few weaknesses.