Recording date: December 1975 at Tonstudio Bauer, Ludwigsburg
Release date 1976
Availabilty: CD, MP3 download, iTunes
Pat Metheny (6-string guitar and 12- sting electric guitar)
Jaco Pastorius (electric bass)
Bob Moses (drums)
Bright Size Life; Sirabhorn; Unity Village; Missouri Uncompromised; Midwestern Nights Dream; Unquity Road; Omaha Celebration; Round Trip / Broadway Blues
"Bright Size Life" is the debut album of Pat Metheny. It is also the first major recording of Jaco Pastorius. That two such musicians who would radically redefine the scope and scale of their instrument in jazz should appear in this way at such an early stage in their careers (Pat Metheny was 22, Jaco Pastorius, 25) is remarkable. That the result is a masterpiece of imagination and inventiveness is perhaps an inevitable outcome of a musical relationship that had developed over the previous four years.
When he was at University of Miami, Pat Metheny had met and befriended Jaco Pastorius. As he points out on his liner notes to Jaco Pastorius' own debut album later that year in 1976:
"As a young musician who met Jaco in his prime when we were both just starting out, I can only say that my reaction on hearing him for the first time …. was simply one of shock – I had literally not heard anything remotely like it, nor had anyone else at that time…..Our musical relationship was immediate….. We also became really good friends. During the short time that I lived in Miami (near Jaco's home town of Ft. Lauderdale), we played show gigs together and occasionally played at his house…. and spent a lot of time talking about music…"
Pat Metheny himself had emerged out of Lee's Summit, Missouri as an equally startling talent on electric guitar. By the age of 16 he was already building a reputation on the Kansas City jazz scene, so much so that on tour Herbie Hancock sought him out to hear him play. By 18 he was teaching guitar, first at University of Miami and, on moving to Boston in 1974 to join Gary Burton's band, for two semesters at Berklee School of Music. As Gary Burton states on the "Bright Size Life" liner notes:
"…. As soon as we stumbled on to the combination of electric 12-string guitar along with our regular, guitar-orientated quartet, we became a two-guitar quintet. That was…. when Pat was nineteen, and it also marked the first meeting of Pat with Bob Moses, who had rejoined our group at that time. Since then, Pat's already impressive talent has been growing wonderfully, knocking out everyone wherever we go."
And as Pat Metheny continues, taking up the story of his working relationship with Jaco Pastorius:
"Shortly after we met, I wound up moving to Boston to join Gary Burton's quartet. During this period, Jaco and I spent time working together with New York pianist Paul Bley and began a trio that lasted for several years with drummer Bob Moses (that group later went on to record …. my first record, "Bright Size Life").
Bob Moses was playing drums at the age of ten and was composing music by age fourteen. By the age of 26, in 1964, he had appeared on record with Roland Kirk, before moving on to work with Larry Coryell and later, in 1968 with the Gary Burton quartet, leading to his collaboration with Pat Metheny and Jaco Pastorius and "Bright Size Life".
At the core of the success of "Bright Size Life" is the firmly founded mutual admiration, friendship and respect of these three musicians, a relationship that had been years in the making. Though emerging as if from nowhere, that solid foundation included the experience of working with and learning from musical leaders of the quality of Gary Burton and Paul Bley. So, alongside their more obvious transformatory talent that could take the music forward beyond the cul de sac of jazz rock, there stands real appreciation of jazz and its development as a tradition, and that is the real key to this seminal album.
All three would go on to further acclaim. Pat Metheny teamed with Lyle Mays in the Pat Metheny Group and has received 16 Grammy awards for an outstanding run of albums that have experimented on the jazz-rock boundary and brought many new listeners to jazz. More recently he has won high praise for his collaboration with Brad Mehldau and for the work of his new trio with Christian McBride and Antonio Sanchez ("Day Trip" (2008 ), "Tokyo Day Trip" (2008)). Jaco Pastorius went on to join Wayne Shorter and Joe Zawinul in Weather Report - appearing on "Black Market" (1976), "Heavy Weather"(1976), "Mr Gone" (1978), "Night Passage" (1980), "Weather Report" (1982) and "8:30" (1983) - before succumbing to an early and brutal death in 1987. Bob Moses went on to work with Mike Gibbs, Hal Galper, Gil Goldstein, Steve Swallow and Steve Kuhn before launching his own successful career as leader with albums such as "Visit With the Great Spirit" (1983), "Time Stood Still" (1994) and "Nishoma" (2000).
What sets "Bright Size Life" apart is just that sense that this is the breakthrough – the moment when that unique talent and that understanding of how that talent can be expressed in a new future for jazz emerges into the full light of public awareness for the first time. The shock experienced by Pat Metheny on first hearing Jaco Pastorius was now a public sense of shock. Just how is he doing that?
Pat Metheny is very clear in his liner notes to the reissue of "Jaco Pastorius" in April 2000 just what a step change had taken place in the understanding of how the bass could be used not just in jazz but in many kinds of music all round the world:
"Everywhere you go…… you hear Jaco's sound…. From the latest TV commercial to bass players of all stripes comping his licks on recordings of all styles…… you hear the echoes of that unmistakable style everywhere…. Jaco at his best…..defines what the word jazz really means."
Fender was not making fretless electric basses at the time Jaco Pastorius wanted to play one. He removed the frets on his bass and filled in the gaps with wood filler, rubbing down the fret board to the required smooth finish, producing "The Bass Of Doom". He then redefined how bass could be played, producing sounds and transitions between notes that much more resembled the sounds produced by horns. He experimented with overtones (picking a damped string to produce a resonant frequency). He played melody lines high up on the fretboard that gave a whole new solo voice in jazz. He finger picked the strings rather like a folk guitarist but got a special sound by remaining close to the bridge. He played deep, low down funk with real velocity, driving any musical piece forward on the balls of its feet. It was a radical reinvention of what the instrument was capable of in every sense.
Having said all this, "Bright Size Life" is very much Pat Metheny's album. All compositions (except Ornette Coleman's "Round Trip / Broadway Blues", the closing track) are Pat Metheny originals.
In a 1990 interview with Andy Aledort for "Guitar Extra!", Pat Metheny talked of the background to "Bright Size Life" and the influences that led to the unique sound of the album:
"To me, Jim Hall was really the father, not just for me, but for almost all the other young guitar players, including John Scofield, Bill Frisell, John Abercrombie, Mick Goodrick. All of us are very, very much descendants of things that he discovered, and all of us have real strong things that we do that really are almost like directly taken from this record, that cut. And also Wes (Montgonery's) thing had a very, very strong effect on me in terms of melodic continuity. That, probably more than anything that any guitar player has affected me with, did more. There was a time when I sounded exactly like Wes. I played with the thumb; I played in octaves.……People would really give me bad vibes when I started to sound like Wes…. For me, it was really a good lesson learned young, which was, Wes did that, it's been done, and that's that. "
And he also commented on the initial muted reception of the album:
"At the time that record came out, it didn't get all that much attention. It got kind of mixed reviews. I have a different perspective on it now than I did then, because, to tell you the truth, after we did Bright Size Life I couldn't listen to it for about seven years. I thought it was terrible. It went OK, and it was fun, and Jaco was really wild; it was the first time he'd been to Europe, and he was really a high energy kind of guy, so it was exciting, but I remember the whole time feeling like, "I can play better than this." And it was like every jazz record, done very fast, like in one day. From my perspective now, 15 years later, that's probably one of the best records I've ever made."
He also acknowledged the influence of Gary Burton, Keith Jarrett and Steve Swallow:
"I always ended up sounding more conventional than I really wanted to sound, so I thought if I wrote music that set up this other vibe, maybe it would help. "Bright Size Life" was the first time that I did any extensive writing….. In that respect, the closest thing (to the sound and feel of the album) would be some of Gary Burton's records. I mean, Gary and Keith Jarrett were big influences for me, too, starting around that time, being in Gary's band, with Steve Swallow, Mick Goodrick and Bob Moses. All those guys had a very big effect on me. I mean, there's a lot of Swallow in "Bright Size Life", in the tunes. You know the thing he does with arpeggios? A lot of that came from just playing with Swallow every night."
That new sound and that new writing that found an intersection between Wes Montgomery, mainstream jazz, urban blues and Ornette Coleman and placed it in the pastoral context of his own experience in rural America was the breakthrough that emerged with "Bright Size Life" and which has formed much the basis of Pat Metheny's approach ever since.
The album's seven original tracks are in many ways elaborations on the same theme seen from different emotional points of view – optimism (the title track, "Omaha Celebration"), quiet meditation ("Sirabhorn", "Midwestern Nights Dream", "Unity Village"), restless yearning ("Missouri Uncompromised", "Unquity Road"). The final Ornette Coleman compositions, "Round Trip / Broadway Blues", shows that the trio can cut complex post bop jazz, harmolodics included, with Pat Metheny's fluid runs a match for anything that Wes Montgomery had achieved and Jaco Pastorius' bass solo and relationship with Bob Moses' playing simply astounding in its freedom and imagination.
In a recent podcast on the background to "Song X", his 1985 collaboration with Ornette Coleman, Pat Metheny made it very clear what an influence Ornette had been, right from the outset as a sixteen year old back in Lee's Summit, Missouri. In Ornette Coleman's music he discovered a vibrance sometimes absent in jazz and a freedom of playing based on harmony without being restricted by playing the changes. Significantly, when he moved to Miami and began jamming with Jaco Pastorius, the music that they most held in common was that of Ornette Coleman, neither finding anything difficult or wayward about this music, as is so often claimed.
"Bright Size Life" deserves recognition as the great album that it undoubtedly is; with each passing year its place at the forefront of jazz becomes more defined, its universality more than ever clearly revealed.
Star Rating *****
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Pat Metheny: About The Music
Audio podcast series in which Pat Metheny discusses his major albums including "Day Trip", "Night Away", 'Secret Story', 'We Live Here", "Metheny Mehldau "Quartet" and "Metheny Mehldau"
Interviews with Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny biography
Jaco Pastorius biography
Bob Moses biography
Interview with Tracy
Pat Metheny Complete Discography and Sessionography
Pat Metheny home page
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Read our reviews of albums featuring Pat Metheny:
"Tokyo Day Trip"
"Metheny Mehldau Quartet"
Read our reviews of albums featuring Jaco Pastorius:
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