Road to the Sun

Road to the Sun

Guitar legend Pat Metheny is a master technician, an improviser of extraordinary, natural fluidity, and a composer with a gift for exquisite melodies. And his albums—whether performed solo or by the acclaimed Pat Metheny Group—are modern-day masterpieces. But on Road to the Sun, he takes a step back. Here, he entrusts performances of two classical chamber works to guitarist friends and colleagues Jason Vieaux and the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. (Metheny does put in a brief appearance, however, on this album’s final track.) The album’s first work—four-movement solo guitar suite Four Paths of Light—was written by Metheny for fellow American guitarist Vieaux, who Metheny has admired for years. “I’d heard of Jason before I was even aware that he knew of me,” Metheny tells Apple Music. “He kind of burst onto the scene as a significant new voice, and I was immediately impressed not just by his brilliant playing, but how he could play complicated things in a simple way. To me, he has the right mix of skills, but with a soul thing going on too.” Four Paths of Light is a technical tour de force, but a work, too, of thrilling rhythmic drive and intense beauty. “I wanted to offer Jason something that would take advantage of his strengths, and also challenge him,” reveals Metheny. “I think when you write music for somebody, or you bring somebody into your band who is very talented, you have an obligation not just to utilize what they can do, but to take them someplace they had maybe never been before.” The next work on this record, Road to the Sun—which was premiered in Denver in 2016—is texturally even more ambitious, its six movements running the gamut of what’s musically and technically possible on the guitar. “The LA Guitar Quartet had for many years been wanting me to write something for them,” says Metheny. “I was on a family vacation and this idea kind of emerged, which ended up being the first movement of Road to the Sun.” Read on as Pat Metheny guides us through those two works, and dives deep into this album’s final track, Arvo Pärt’s “Für Alina,” which he performed on his 42-string guitar.   Four Paths of Light   I. Pt. 1 “Jason Vieaux really understands the full range that you can play on a guitar—from the loudest to the softest. And I wanted to start with something sort of aggressive. Jason brings to this movement a lively aggressiveness, but also a sort of elegance, and that’s really a testament to his mastery.” II. Pt. 2 “Playing in the adagio style that you hear in this movement is something that Jason is really good at, and it was a pleasure for me to know that he would have an immediate understanding of how to do it. At the same time, it’s one of those pieces where you have a melody on top, and it has to sing above this accompanying, almost left-hand piano writing. It’s hard to get that balance. I worked up a version of this movement in a band setting, with a quartet that I was playing with at the time, and it worked great. Which was a little bit of a surprise for me, as I wasn’t really thinking of it like that.” III. Pt. 3 “If you have Albert Einstein in your math department, you don’t want them to teach him eighth-grade algebra! I kind of felt that way about Jason. If I was going to write a piece for Jason, I needed to take full advantage of the Jason-ness of it. That third movement is really hard to play, but he makes it sound pretty easy. If I had to perform one part of this suite for someone, this is the movement I’d play.” IV. Pt. 4 “Jason is spectacularly skilled at the guitar technique where notes are sustained over moving lower notes. Before I started, I knew I wanted the suite to end with this idea. I never quite understood how it was done, so Jason showed me. There are so many different ways to notate it and I basically just wrote a whole note with lines underneath, but I wasn’t sure which of the note values he’d choose to play. It was an education for me to watch him figure out how best to do it.”   Road to the Sun   I. Pt. 1 “To me, the guitar shines in a multiple-guitar setting, and particularly when each is playing exactly the same thing in unison. When I first presented the piece to the LA Guitar Quartet, they were like, ‘Do you really want us all four to play that eight bars exactly in unison? We don’t usually do that.’ And I’m like, ‘Well, yeah!’ One of the things the guitar is best at, in fact, is the sound you get when sitting around a campfire with a bunch of people playing guitar. And I wanted to achieve that, as well as the more formal kind of string-quartet approach that the LA Guitar Quartet is used to.” II. Pt. 2 “Part of the fun of writing for the LA Guitar Quartet is that, as well-known as they are as a collective ensemble, individually they’re spectacular players. Each one of them has a very distinctive sound and approach. I think this movement explores all of their strengths. This piece also takes advantage of a seven-string guitar, which adds an extra fifth to the bass range so that it’s almost functioning like a bass guitar at certain points.” III. Pt. 3 “In 2009, a director friend of mine, Scott Elliott, staged Mourning Becomes Electra, a five-hour play that he had condensed into two hours. The play takes place during the American Civil War and he wanted to have a score for it, so I got a guitar from the time of the Civil War and I improvised all of the music. Of all the things I played, one thing really stood out, and somehow that came to mind. A lot of that music is what this third movement is. It’s written in a kind of strict four-part way, with each guy in the LA Guitar Quartet playing one note.” IV. Pt. 4 “When I first presented the transition into ‘V. Pt. 5’ to the quartet, it was the only time I saw them look concerned. There was a point where they went off by themselves for a band meeting. They then came back with a solution that was kind of a truncated version of what I had written that they all felt comfortable doing. It was probably better!” V. Pt. 5 “In this movement, the individual players each have a moment where they’re the featured player and sounds improvised. It was fun for me to write down ideas that function in an improvisational way, but hopefully would have the resilience to be performed night after night, time after time, as written material. I think that the awareness that each of the members of the quartet had of my style was extremely useful in the way that they each prepared for ‘V. Pt. 5.’ In this movement, as in ‘II. Pt. 2,’ there are these long sections of strumming. Strumming is one of the things the guitar is really good at, but for these guys, it often invokes flamenco. I have a note in the score which reads ‘not flamenco’! What I was really looking for was a certain kind of sitting-around-the-campfire wrist action.” VI. Pt. 6 “The beginning of Road to the Sun references the end—a lot of harmonic stuff reappears. Having gone through all of the different emotions that this piece takes you through, there was a sort of resonance to going back to it again and hearing it from a more evolved perspective. And the LA Guitar Quartet totally got that. They came to New York to perform it in November 2016, and I was able to sit in the audience and hear them play the suite. When they returned to that theme 25 minutes in, it packed a punch emotionally in a way that I wasn’t expecting.” Für Alina (Arr. by Pat Metheny for 42-string guitar) “I first heard ‘Für Alina’ a number of years ago and immediately thought of my 42-string guitar. What this piece does is exactly what the 42-string guitar is good at, which is sustaining notes, with other notes added on top to create overtones. The piece offers a harmonic respite to the adventures of the previous 40 minutes.”

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