Here’s an idea: what if Pat Metheny fans were referred to as Meth-heads? Eh? No, sorry, not sure about that one. But the guy does have a devoted fan base. When I saw Metheny in concert (2021), an older couple in line joked to security, “Metal detectors?? But we love Pat Metheny! We would never do anything to hurt him!”
There’s a reason people seek to protect Pat Metheny at all costs. He controls an active legacy dating back almost 50 years to a 1974 recording with Jaco Pastorius, Bruce Ditmas and Paul Bley. Metheny was 19 at the time of the recording, and the album was released in 1976, the same year as Metheny’s proper ECM debut, the trio recording Bright Size Life. Metheny would continue to release strong records for ECM for almost a decade, but his only true solo effort in this bunch is his fourth album, New Chautauqua.
By layering tracks of acoustic and electric guitars, Metheny achieves a strikingly full sound on New Chautauqua by himself. Though the title track is upbeat, the album’s sound as a whole is weightlessly drifting, most notably on the 10 minute “Long Ago Child / Fallen Star”, which reaches a mesmerizing conclusion. It takes almost 7 minutes to get there, but “Fallen Star” is a brilliant oasis, a background of shimmering echoes with soft strings plucking away at the fore.
Chautauqua was a kind of rural educational fair that spread in popularity throughout the U.S. in the late 19th century. What Metheny’s music has to do with it I’m not sure, but I have read somewhere that the album is based on his impressions of New Mexico as a child. After “Fallen Star”, “Hermitage” provides another one of those “oh shit” moments, when the melody drops about a minute in. It’s an easy song to treasure. “Daybreak” rounds things out in a manner fitting its title, as it starts off a slow crawl and rises to a gleaming resolution.
Listen to New Chautauqua here.