Anna Maria Jopek and Friends with Pat Metheny

I was first introduced to jazz guitarist Pat Metheny after listening to New Chautauqua in 1979. I have not stopped listening to him ever since, although my enthusiasm has waxed and waned somewhat. The jazz purist in me was somewhat shocked as the Pat Metheny Group developed into a jazz-pop fusion: its rich arrangements and soaring chord-sequences were sometimes bordering on the excessively lush. Yet I have continued to take guilty pleasure in listening to him, especially on long car journeys when I’ve need something really rich to pick me up from the road’s tedium. I still prefer those albums and tracks when he expresses (or returns to) the purity of his roots. His earliest albums (before the era of PMG) remain favourites, including his first, Bright Size Life, Watercolors – with bassist Eberhard Weber, another of my favourite jazz artists. I also very much like Pat Metheny Group, the debut of PMG, and some of their earlier albums, although I find that I easily tire when listening to their later work – it’s uncomfortably close to stadium rock for this jazz-o-phile. Then there are some gems of collaboration (such as Beyond the Missouri Sky with Charlie Haden). Another excellent work of his is the solo album, One quiet night which has a wonderful solo guitar arrangement of Ferry cross the Mersey, as well as a lot more besides.

The biggest find of the month, however, has been his collaboration with Polish jazz singer Anna Maria Jopek on an album called Upojenie. It’s a mixture of Metheny and PMG standards, rearranged by Jopek and friends, but with Metheny still playing guitar. It also includes Jopek’s versions of other Polish songs. I don’t speak Polish, so cannot vouch for the lyrics, but it sounds absolutely delightful. There is still the guilty pleasure at some of the lushness, but there are also some interesting surprises with nu-jazz-esque synthesizer programming mixed-in, so a few new horizons open up. I’m amazed I haven’t come across it before – it was released originally in 2002.

Whatever my inner-jazz-purist may make of Metheny’s work as a whole, one benefit of his willingness to be non-purist in his own approach to the art is that he has opened up some new vistas by these collaborations and helped people like me to discover outstanding potential in artists like Anna Maria Jopek. If you can – go listen.  Oh and of course it goes without saying that he is one of the best jazz guitarists on the planet today.

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