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Catchgroove Hall of Fame: Pat Metheny Group – Offramp

January 12, 2020

Offramp is an important milestone in the Pat Metheny catalog:

  • Pat discovered and mastered the guitar synthesizer (Roland GR-300) and it would forever impact his work – it made his compositions orchestrations and not merely arrangements. The guitar synth significantly increased his palette.
  • Pat revealed his love for Ornette Coleman (on the opening track and the titular track).
  • Pat introduced some subtle vocals to the Pat Metheny Group (PMG) sound. He and Mays had experimented with that the year before in their side project As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. Adding vocals to the PMG sound brought it to a larger audience. The vocals are not pop, but another jazz instrument.
  • He challenged his audience – he was going to be an adventurous artist. It was not going to be all silk, there was going to be some rag wool too.  He did not lose his audience, he grew it.

At the time that this album was released, I was a big fan – I saw him live with each album cycle. The Offramp show I saw was at the next level from what I had heard on records and what I had seen in the previous live shows.

I was first introduced to Metheny via the first PMG album which is pastoral folk-jazz. I backtracked through Metheny’s solo career and sideman work which was conventional jazz. After that first PMG album, he did a solo album that was just Pat multi-tracking resulting in conventional ECM audio wallpaper. The second PMG album (American Garage) was a nod to rock and pop. His next, 80/81, gave him credibility with the jazz heads as it was a traditional jazz combo playing conventional post-bop jazz. As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls was a wonderfully odd soundscape of melodic sound effects.

Then came Offramp, which became the blueprint for the rest of his career: adventurous post-bop jazz, easy listening folk-jazz, elaborate cinematic arrangements and weird sounds that complement vs. distract. A perfect cocktail in the LP format.

A big part of Offramp’s sound is the guitar synth. Pat made the guitar synthesizer sound as organic as a horn. Clearly, Pat’s guitar synth solos are horn solos. When you put a tool like the Roland GR-300 in the hands of a guy with Pat’s technical savvy and music skills you get magic.

In my mind, this is the album that made Patrick Bruce Metheny PAT METHENY. After the first two PMG albums, he risked being a jazz-pop cat – the kind of thing Kenny G became. But he had a different plan: he was going to make some real accessible shit and then sneak a fast one on you with some far-out-bat-shit-crazy-jazz. It was a nice compromise. He opened a lot of ears including mine.

  1. Just giving it a listen now. Perfect for my mood. I missed this one but never too late. I did manage to grab the first one on vinyl awhile back.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Pat Metheny Group – Travels | Axl's Catch Groove

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