Monday, October 15, 2007

Sound Falls on Deft Ears

I brought ear plugs to the Pat Metheny Trio concert at Minnesota Orchestra Hall (October 14th). Metheny’s tour took him to Iowa City earlier this week, and my octogenarian parents lasted about twenty minutes. They reported that the hall's sound level measured 95 db, and even at the rear, it was too much for them. So I came prepared.

Metheny, one of the living legends of jazz and fusion guitar, played the first three tunes solo on three different acoustic guitars—a standard classic style body, a baritone guitar (a bit longer in the neck I assume), and a double neck, hollow-body ax with maybe 40 strings in multiple directions that looked like a fantasy of Leonardo DaVinci. But then the electric gear came out, along with Christian McBride on bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums… and after a few chords the ear plugs were in place. I have given up trying to understand the level of amplification common to large music halls that otherwise have excellent acoustics and, with classical orchestras and chamber groups, good sense regarding decibel levels. Musicians blame sound engineers and sound engineers claim they only follow the directions of the musicians.

Ears protected, I really enjoyed the two-hour set, diverse in tempos, rhythms and soundscapes, from modern post bop to fusiony grooves. By the end of the evening, Metheny had pulled out no less than five guitars—the acoustic menagerie noted above, an electric hollow-body and an electric solid body, the right one at the right time thanks to Metheny’s guitar valet. Sanchez appeared at times to have a third leg, with at least five and maybe six different pieces of apparatus engaged simultaneously. I wondered if the guitar valet had crawled behind the trapset and was surreptitiously working the hi-hat. Apparently Antonio’s toes went one way and his heel another. McBride, definitely at the top of the heap of his generation of bassists, thankfully played acoustic on all but one tune, and it was a virtuosic display of melodic, high-speed artistry. His duet with Metheny on “My Romance,” the only cover tune of the program, could be the foundation for an elegant recording.

Ear plugs—I highly recommend them, at least when jazz comes to Orchestra Hall.
Above photo: Even Bad Plus drummer Dave King protects his ears!! (Photo: Andrea Canter)