Pat Metheny varies the contexts for his music his current "main" group (present on his latest CD The Way Up, Nonesuch) includes longtime keyboard player Lyle Mays, drummer Antonio Sanchez and trumpeter Cuong Vu, and his current touring trio, the swingers he brought to the Windy City on a windy Friday night, is comprised of Sanchez and bass giant Christian McBride. These three held the packed house at Michigan Avenue’s Symphony Center in the collective palm of their hand(s).
The show opened with a couple of solo guitar pieces, one on acoustic baritone guitar and another on a mutant guitar/harp/lute axe while these spots "showcased" Metheny’s incredible technique (sometimes sounding like more than one guitarist), that technique served the music, not his ego or the guitar devotees. Both pieces were based in Anglo-American folk music and were enriched/expanded upon by his skill as an improviser. Then Sanchez and McBride took to the stage and things got cookin’ in a hurry. Metheny picked up one of his electrics and effortlessly melded aspects of Wes Montgomery chordology, bebop saxophone vocabulary and John Coltrane’s "sheets of sound," while McBride’s FULL-bodied, busy, rippling bass (he knows how to bow, too) and Sanchez’s sharp, crackling, reserved (in the sense of having a light touch and tantalizingly brief solos) drumming kept things in a constant state of Swing. Metheny announced the trio would be performing several as-yet-untitled new compositions, yet if there was any tentativeness on the part of the musicians, it certainly didn’t show. This band was as limber as any great jazz group and as tight as any great rock band. For an encore, the PM3 surprised (most of) the house with a blues-charged, blistering rocker a la Jeff Beck (in his pre-Blow By Blow epoch, that is) or Jimmie Vaughn, with McBride playing electric bass in an almost guitar-like (a la Jack Bruce) manner. The PM3 played close to two hours but it passed like a half-hour set time really does fly when you’re having a) toast; b) fun; c) feasting on a fine musical repast or d) all of the above.