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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Don Mather, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf, Glyn Pursglove

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American Garage

ECM Records ECM 1155/1775848





1. (Cross the) Heartland
2. Airstream
3. The Search
4. American Garage
5. The Epic


Pat Metheny - 6 and 12-string guitars
Lyle Mays - Paino, Oberheim, autoharp, organ
Mark Egan - Bass
Dan Gottlieb - Drums


Pat Metheny has achieved a rare feat: playing jazz and becoming widely popular at the same time. When it was released in 1979, this album topped Billboard's jazz charts but also made an impact on the pop charts. The group's success may be put down to the emphasis which Metheny and his long-time collaborator, Lyle Mays, have put on melody. They actually play jazz that is beautiful as well as intelligent. To borrow the title of a Rodgers & Hart song, I like to recognise the tune - and so do many listeners. This album contains only five tunes but they are all melodious as well as memorable.

Pat Metheny makes a unique (though much copied) sound on his various guitars, while Lyle Mays' keyboards provide a colourful wash of music on which the listener can float comfortably. It flows smoothly but it is not "smooth jazz" in the pejorative sense. It is pleasurable without in any way patronising the listener. In a way, it is as hypnotic as some of the compositions of Steve Reich or John Adams, although its uses timbre and melody rather than repetition.

Now reissued in a new mid-price series called "Touchstones" comprising classic ECM albums, American Garage lasts for only about 35 minutes but it is gratifying from start to finish. The title may be misleading, as this is very far from the cacophony of "garage music".

One should concentrate more on the "American" in the tile, since the music often conveys a picture of America's rural wide open spaces. A track like (Cross the) Heartland has spaciousness as well as a pastoral feel, with hints of country music in some of Metheny's guitar work. Airstream has a wistful country atmosphere. Working for three years with Gary Burton may well have introduced Metheny to country-music influences, as Gary's first album was made with country guitarist Hank Garland, and Burton later tried a (very successful) country-jazz crossover album with his Tennessee Firebird. Another feature of Gary Burton's playing that may have affected Metheny was the buoyant nature of his vibes playing: like the Pat Metheny Group, it made plentiful use of legato.

One can hear many other influences in this album. The title-track has hints of boogie-woogie and even the Beatles. But the sound made by Metheny and Mays with this quartet was strikingly original and continues to be very attractive. Their music is very accessible: its immediacy reminds me slightly of the very different Dave Brubeck Quartet, which also made "serious" music that was instantly comprehensible and could be appreciated by a wide audience.

Of course, Pat Metheny's questing spirit has led him in many other directions as well - like playing with such people as Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden and Dewey Redman. But I remain an unrepentant fan of his small groups with Lyle Mays, who is an essential part of the group sound. This album may be very different from some of the more way-out productions on the ECM label but I love it. We may hope that the attractive price will bring in plenty of newcomers to enjoy the distinctive Metheny/Mays style.

Tony Augarde

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