Classic 1: Pat Metheny Group — Offramp (LP, 1982) [ECM Records]

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Many music lovers from Ukraine know Alexey Kogan and have heard his radioshow “Themes With Variations” on Era FM. But not all of them know that this meditative late-night background theme is “Are You Going With Me?”. It was the first Pat Metheny song I heard and since that moment he become one of my musical heroes.

Album was recorded October 1981 at Power Station studio, New York. Personnel: Pat Metheny (guitar, guitar synthesizer), Lyle Mays (keyboards), Steve Rodby (basses), Nana Vasconcelos (percussion, berimbau, voice), Dan Gottlieb (drums).

Described by Metheny himself as “probably the most diverse within itself”, this PMG album, the first since American Garage, won the Grammy Award for ‘Best Jazz Fusion Performance’ in 1983.

A Brazilian flavour (which will often in the future permeate PM career), is evident from the Nana Vasconcelos percussion driven 1st bars on, as a matter of fact, it’s the striking contrast between his fat percussions and the screaming synthesized guitar (which PM starts using along with the Synclavier as one of his trademark sonorities) — that proposes a new kind of energy, as on the opening “Barcarole”. This track is a three minute free flowing, trippy tune in the style of As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls album of the prior year, but now that newly printed calling card has been officially handed out.

The nine minute centerpiece selection “Are You Going With Me?” follows with a long developing cyclical theme that is played at a raised pitch halfway through. The solos space it allows for first Mays and then Metheny (with two differing guitar synthesizer solos) allow them to fully develop their statements without haste and as he usually does Pat exercises restraint to give his audience something a lot more interesting in the bargain.

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Back to his more conventional sound, at first with an almost acoustic tone, wrapped by a waving acoustic piano accompaniment and Nana uttering almost inaudible background Portuguese words, with newcomer Steve Rodby double bass accentuating the strong tempos and soon departed Dan Gottlieb’s cymbals tinkling all over, it’s a Bossa feel that marks the tranquil and atmospheric “Au Lait”.

With a storming piano riff, a Rock pulse, Steve Rodby on electric bass, the keyboards constantly adding tension and Nana’s rolling percussions, Pat Metheny adds reverb-y Bop licks to the catchy, juvenile and Radio-friendly “Eighteen”, while the title track is served with neckbreaking speed and tumultuous drum playing and thundering ascending and descending seemingly double bass runs, in a Free Jazz frenzy where the guitar synth explodes, before the bass is left alone with the berimbau in an unusual but curious sound duo for a while, as Pat Metheny regains his breath for a finalizing wild return.

Easy going and lilting “James” brings back Metheny sliding octaves and chirpy articulate phrasings, Mays jazzy harmonic structures and acoustic piano soloing on a joyful Bossa-Jazz beat, and “The Bat” closes with haunting but tranquil and spacious cinematic synthesized harmonies, as Mays and Metheny interact atop long bowed bass notes, colourful cymbals and Nana’s discreet jungle sounds.

In contrast to the first two Pat Metheny Group albums, Offramp offers a much more varied selection of tracks, each with its own personality. You can still hears echoes of the original sound, but the introduction of the guitar synthesizer, percussionist/vocalist, and a bass player altered their sound.

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(Used materials from Wikipedia and some reviews over the Internet)
Photos by Sasha Tessio