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Pat Metheny - First Circle (Pat Metheny Group) CD (album) cover

FIRST CIRCLE (PAT METHENY GROUP)

Pat Metheny

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

3.53 | 52 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Chicapah
Prog Reviewer
2 stars In the last year or so I've revived in my long existence on this earth the enjoyable, satisfying habit of perusing the used vinyl bins for gathering up my prog rations. That activity takes me back to the good ol' days when every music enthusiast would spend time every week roaming the aisles of the local record store, striking up conversations with complete strangers about some great band they've discovered and dealing with the heart-wrenching dilemma of choosing one album over another due to pesky monetary restrictions. More often than not I'd be pleased with the decision I made once I got the chosen LP home and onto my turntable but the occasional flip side would be facing the disappointment of realizing that I'd just spent my hard-earned cash on a platter that I'd play only once or twice before shelving it in the orange crate library forevermore. Unfortunately, the Pat Metheny Group's "First Circle" belongs in the latter category. It's quite forgettable.

I opted to give this disc a blind try because I've always considered Pat and his keyboard man Lyle Mays' engaging "As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita Falls" album from 1981 to be an excellent jazz rock/fusion recording. I really don't know much about their sizeable catalogue of work but they have a respectable reputation. I've never heard anyone bad mouth them, in other words. At the very least I expected it to be worth my while and spare change but, after sitting through it a few times, I assure you I'll think twice about springing for another of their product again. (And to think that it came down to this or a pristine copy of Styx's questionable and much criticized "Kilroy Was Here" LP! Hmm. Maybe next trip.)

I knew I was in for a strenuous listen from the get-go. Parodies are supposed to be humorous glimpses of frivolity (as evidenced by the Beatles' entertaining "You Know My Name") but it's a dangerous move nonetheless because when satire fails it's an embarrassingly pathetic and demeaning pie in the face for those involved. Case in point: "Forward March," this album's dubious opener. Had they tacked this on to the end and trimmed it to a mere 30 seconds or so they might've gotten away with it but to place it in its entirety at the very beginning of the LP is the equivalent of leaving your Great Dane's huge, steaming pile of excrement reeking in the middle of the foyer. Perhaps Metheny was seeking revenge on a sadistic high school band teacher he'd had as a teen by having the members of his group play instruments they can't play such as trumpet, bass drum, glockenspiel and field drum on this cut but the result is so ugly and off-putting that for a moment I thought someone had punked me by switching discs. It may be the worst start to an album I've ever heard and that's nothing to be proud of, believe me.

The upbeat tempo of "Yolanda, You Learn" helps to cleanse the palate of the vile aftertaste left by the previous number and the track's crisp production is a welcome upgrade but this song reveals a major flaw that plagues this project throughout: Predictability. This is dentist office variety lite jazz that's impossible to pay any attention to. It passes through the consciousness like a feathery cloud and is gone. "The First Circle" has a Weather Report- styled introduction that's promising and, in comparison with the rest of the schlock here, it represents the acme of the proceedings. Just don't expect any fun surprises along the way. Percussionist Pedro Aznar's wordless vocal causes the tune to veer dangerously close to contemporary AOR territory for a brief spell but Lyle's delicate piano intervenes in the nick of time to rescue it from that dull fate. Mays' densely-layered synthesizers and drummer Paul Wertico's reverb-heavy rumblings are about as close to prog-sounding as this record gets, though.

"If I Could" sports a deep, gorgeous aura but Pat's gentle acoustic guitar musings are entirely too sleepy time time for this rocker to stay awake for. This is aural Ambien, folks. In fact, now I need a nap. Back in a jiffy. Zzzzzz.

I'm back. "Tell It All" begins with a sort of world beat groove courtesy of some lively Agogo bells but it soon turns into a boring resume of Metheny's jazzy guitar runs fed through a far- out, groovy effect pedal. Don't get me wrong, it's not awful, especially Lyle's piano solo, but this instrumental doesn't take you anywhere you haven't been a thousand times before. Basically, it's mall mezzanine muzak. "End of the Game" is next and it's got a very seductive, early Gino Vanelli vibe going for it. (Don't snicker. GV was one of the first to rely strictly on modern keyboard technology to supply all but the drums in his backup band in the 70s and they kicked serious tail at times.) The shame is that they could've gone in a bold, adventurous direction with this composition but it lacks even a molecule of imagination and/or balls. Mays' synth ride is cool but so is Blue Bell ice cream and it lingers in one's memory about as long. After a quieter recess the piece goes south and turns into a sappy Sergio Mendez & Brazil '66-ish yawner. Got coffee?

Speaking of coma-inducing, "Mas Alla (Beyond)" barely has a pulse. It borders on being romantic Peruvian restaurant trio fare and I'm not exaggerating. Pedro's feminine falsetto is fine and dandy but it has no business hanging around a progressive rock establishment. Enough, already! "Praise" sounds like a backing track for an Olivia Newton- John demo. This fluffy ditty displays, for whatever reason, the complete dearth of quality material that the band had at its disposal at this juncture of their career. No inspiration, no substance to be found. This isn't even jazz! More like cotton candy pop that would be better suited for elevator cars. It embodies the word vapid.

You know you've wasted $5.98 of your wages when the photograph on the back of the album's sleeve is more intriguing than the sum total of the music inside. Sure, the talent and acumen of Pat and his supporting cast is obvious and the record's undeniable fidelity brings out the best in your stereo system but this is a progressive music site so "First Circle" must be judged accordingly. This might be appropriate as unobtrusive background music when hosting a dinner party but that's about the only function I can fathom it suitable for. I have no regrets, though. You can't win 'em all. Sometimes taking a risk pays off and sometimes it don't but therein lies the thrill of the hunt. 2 stars. Barely.

Chicapah | 2/5 |

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