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  • Pat Metheny: The ECM Years, 1975–1984 by Mervyn Cooke
  • James Mason
Pat Metheny: The ECM Years, 1975–1984. By Mervyn Cooke. (Oxford Studies in Recorded Jazz.) New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. [xxii, 298 p. ISBN 9780199897674 (hardcover), $74; ISBN 9780199897667 (paperback), $18.95; ISBN 9780199897670 (e-book), $9.99.] Music examples, illustrations, discography and filmography, index.

Pat Metheny: The ECM Years, 1975–1984 traces the development of Metheny's style as a guitarist, improviser, and composer during the formative part of his career. Examining the eleven albums he created on the ECM label during a span of eight years (1976–84), this study presents an engrossing assessment of Metheny's style, development, and philosophy on jazz. Cooke sets out to explore three main concepts: "the fundamental notion of a 'new paradigm' capable of keeping jazz relevant"; the "increasing symbiotic relationship between improvisation and composition"; and finally, "the various strategies through which a linear model for musical narrative was constantly varied" (p. 26).

Cooke provides context for how Metheny's music fits in the community [End Page 130] of jazz, both American and European, as well as (to a lesser extent) classical and popular music, and effectively demonstrates where Metheny is situated in this environment. In the introductory chapter, he gives some biographical information, but the music itself is the focus. One central concept explored is the importance, to Metheny, of linear narrative. This well-established concept provides a framework, to an extent, for the rest of the book. Cooke quotes Metheny: "It's a matter of telling a story. … You don't wanna hear the guy say the same thing over and over and over again as he's telling you a story. You want him to say it once in the most vivid possible way"

The book uses the ECM albums to trace Metheny's development from an artist recording in a "documentary" style (focusing on live recording, minimizing overdubs and studio effects) to one who uses the studio to its full advantage. Furthermore, this book follows Metheny's growth as an artist who initially focuses on traditional forms, then later actively explores complex forms and incorporates broad influences, from world music to minimalism. In his discussion of Metheny's work with Gary Burton prior to his solo output with ECM, Cooke states, "Two significant elements of Metheny's playing and composing were refined as a result of the influence of Burton and his experienced sidemen. First, the concept of improvisation as narrative was gradually honed. … Second, Burton's virtuosic command of a complex vocabulary of chord changes inspired Metheny" (p. 37). This discussion provides a basis from which Metheny's style grows and reveals that Burton was a formidable influence on him.

Bright Size Life (1976), Metheny's first solo album on ECM, was released when he was twenty-one, shortly after his stint with Burton. It reveals the Metheny group as a type of "power trio," with Jaco Pastorius on electric bass and Bob Moses on drums: "a lot of 16th-notes and a million chord changes," Moses remarked about the album (p. 53). Incorporating rock elements was something that Burton would have encouraged, and in this way the album demonstrates Metheny's desire to experiment and further develop jazz. Metheny says about the recording, "We were on a mission to rethink the roles of our instruments as improvising vehicles" (p. 54). With all the ambition and energy in Bright Size Life, Metheny was still utilizing standard jazz forms, such as the thirty-two-bar AABA form found on the title track. Furthermore, for this album he used few of the studio embellishments that would become far more prevalent in his recordings during the following years. Subsequent to the discussion of Bright Size Life, Cooke traces Metheny's development through his later ECM releases, which culminated with First Circle (1984), the last of the ECM recordings. As the record label expanded in different directions, the artist was left feeling somewhat disillusioned with his place in its roster. Through this discourse we see Metheny pushing the structures of jazz, as in his ambitious double album 80/81 (1980), for example. Cooke's analysis reveals...


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