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Columns > Patrick Buzby

Published: 2004/02/26
by Pat Buzby

A Bit About Collecting

A few weeks ago, I signed up for a tree on the
Pat Metheny Yahoo newsgroup. As a result, two
soundboard recordings of his group from Besan and
Marseilles, France in July 1991 made their way to my
hard drive, and I have spent a few hours installing
them, copying them in exchange for blank CDRs or other
similar recordings, and sending e-mails to facilitate
both of the above.
Some might not understand why I and, in the case of
this tree, a few dozen others would want to spend our
spare time this way. Here is an attempt at explaining
it – a part of it, anyway.
These two concerts were part of a tour during which
the Metheny Group recorded their most recent live CD,
The Road to You. A while back, I read a story from
their engineer, Rob Eaton (also known for Bob Weir
impressions and Dead vault-digging), where he
mentioned that he had told Metheny not to expect to be
able to use the performances from the first concert
Eaton recorded, only to have Metheny insist that his
solo from "Have You Heard" that night was special
enough that Eaton would have to find a way to pull it
off the flawed tapes for the CD. A bit of close
listening revealed that Besan was the very concert
where this happened.
This song is an example of what I’ll call the "cookie
cutter syndrome." This applies to many artists (think
of all those "Truckin’"-"Other One"s from the early
70’s, for instance), but the Metheny Group is an
especially strong example, as their shows tend to be
very consistent – perhaps too much so, if you ask
their detractors. The Metheny Group played "Have You
Heard" at just about all of their concerts, as far as
I know, from 1989 through 1998, and each version
features Metheny playing two choruses on a
blues-with-a-bridge structure. These solos tend to be
very similar on the surface, but going a bit deeper
shows that although he has some signature licks, he
did a remarkable job of finding a unique approach each
time out.
While I was mulling over my ideas for this column, I
came across one of the releases of the infamous Dean
Benedetti tapes of Charlie Parker’s solos. Using a
wire recorder (about as good as a bootlegger could do
in the late 40’s), Benedetti tried to record all of
Parker’s solos in a serious of shows – not the other
players’ solos or the rest of the songs, just Parker’s
solos, one after another. One reviewer described
these solos (which I haven’t heard) as being like a
series of snowflakes, with many in a row from the same
structure but all of them individual. Now, Parker
arguably did more to advance the art of improvisation
than any other musician in history, and was perhaps
more deserving of this sort of attention than Metheny
(or any other musician who gets discussed regularly in Still, it’s enjoyable to check out a
new example of Metheny’s efforts to deal with that
familiar 44-bar structure whenever I track down a new
recording from those years.
It’s also enjoyable to put oneself inside a favored
artist’s shoes. Why was the Besan solo so special? Listening to it a bit less casually than I would
normally, I do notice how fleetly he moves through the
assorted scales and how he mixes in a few catchy
melodic figures with the more erudite stuff. In
comparing this solo with the Marseilles solo from five
nights later, and comparing a few other solos from
these two shows with the ones used on the official CD,
I found that the best way to distinguish them was to
start with the "liftoff" – the phrase with which
Metheny or the other soloists began their statements.
The Marseilles "Have You Heard" has an earlier, more
abrupt "liftoff," but it’s not inferior to Besan in
an obvious way. Perhaps Metheny will be the only one
to understand the choice.
Still, it’s fun to grapple with these questions.
Around the same time I started delving into unofficial
recordings, I started checking into various fanzines,
and generally found people with the same curiosities
about different artists: why did they chose particular
songs for their setlists, why didn’t [obscure early
70’s album track] get played live more often, why did
they leave certain cuts off their albums or drop
certain players from their bands. Some of these
recordings have no clues to offer, but occasionally
they reveal a secret or two. These secrets are what I
and other collectors look for: they bring us a step
closer to the heart of music and, at best, provide
inspiration for our own pursuits.

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