Pat Metheny – Fusion Guitarists & Genre Purity
2009/08/27 5 Comments
A funny & unexpected pop cult reference to Metheny was heard tonight on NPR’s “Fresh Aire.” Check it out at npr.com/programs. It was a clip from a comedy by producer Mike Judge, the interviewee. A pair of overeager music store salesmen were pitching a Gibson guitar to a fetching and flirtatious young beauty.
“It’s just like Metheny plays,” said one. “He’s the greatest fusion guitar player.”
“I… don’t know who you’re talking about. But it’s a beautiful guitar. Do you have it in another color?”
Both guys rush to the back room to fetch the instrument, while she picks up the first guitar and walks out the door.
That’s the first joke, the one most folks get. But a true Pat-head knows he stopped playing the Gibson ES-175 ten years ago, and that he hates being called a fusion guitar player. “My stuff was a reaction against that,” he writes. His music is built from melodies, not riffs. Compared with McLaughlin, Coryell and DiMeola, Pat slowed the music down to my speed of listening. And he takes most of his inspiration and style from horn players, not guitarists.
But if he’s not a fusion guitarist, he’s certainly created a wide assortment of fusion music, leaping continents to seek new musical material. Brazilian grooves mix with Asian instruments, classical orchestras with synth guitars, all seasoned with steely broad-strummed textures from country music.
So he’s an anti-fusion guitarist creating fusion music. That’s like the other paradox he’s often posed: All the members of his band must be familiar and expert in bebop, although they’ll hardly ever come right out and play it.
I am breaking this out into a new post because it brings up the whole debate about genre purity. Kevin Kneistedt had a good discussion going recently over on his “Groove Notes” page on the issue of Jazz purity. Check out Where Is the Fine Line In Jazz? and stay to read more of Kevin’s stuff. His post came out of a complaint he received from a listener to his regular live-stream broadcast on Jazz24Live. Kevin had played Steely Dan’s Aja, and the listener complained bitterly that the track was Rock, not Jazz and did not belong on the show.
I, along with a few others, responded about the general idiocy of labeling styles and genres, especially when it leads, as it typically does, to a kind of huffiness about who “belongs” and who doesn’t.
For the sake of research, here is the “offending track” in live performance:
While the Pat Metheny incident is, instead, a question of self-labeling (or, more precisely label-denial) I think it grows out of the same tendency, when it comes to musicians, for us to seek pigeonholes. You correctly point out that one of the notable things that Pat has done, over the years, is to tap into, blend, yea fuse many disparate styles into his music. And yet, he doesn’t want to have anything to do with the word fusion. His marked avoidance emphasizes the power he accords the label.
So where does the tendency for genre labeling come from?
Does this come from the marketing side of the business?
Is it inherent in fan-dom?
Are musicians, themselves, prone to sort out into categories, like religious denominations?