JAZZ / DIRK SUTRO : Ensemble Spells Difference for Metheny’s Brand of Jazz

For some reason, jazz doesn’t seem to breed consistent band lineups. Many big-name musicians use different people on every album and often tour with still other musicians. Guitarist Pat Metheny, who plays the California Theater at 8 p.m. on Sunday, has built his sound around a steady ensemble. (Metheny’s show was moved from San Diego State’s Open Air Theatre).

“I’m extremely lucky,” said Metheny from Tucson, on his way west for a series of California performances. “The kind of music I’m interested in doing requires having an ensemble. At this point, that’s one thing that separates us from the other groups.”

Keyboard and trumpet man Lyle Mays has been with Metheny for 12 years, bass player Steve Rodby and drummer Paul Wertico, for eight. Vocalist Pedro Aznar and percussionist Armando Marcal are the “new” members, each with four years in the band.

Metheny’s brand of jazz involves improvising around tight compositions, often with a Brazilian flavor. The music Metheny remembers most from boyhood is bossa nova, and the first things he learned on guitar were by Brazilian composers like Antonio Carlos Jobim. These days, he’s practically Brazilian himself, spending several months a year in Rio de Janeiro, where he’s about to buy a home.


In addition to Brazilians like Jobim and Milton Nascimento, Metheny has always looked to the great saxophonists.

“My biggest role models are Charlie Parker and John Coltrane, in terms of how to get from A to B. A good sax player can go any direction at any minute. Guitar players are often stuck, pattern oriented. I really like the idea of getting to the point where any line can go up, down, sideways or forward at any time.”

Unlike some of his contemporaries, Metheny’s improvising retains a boppish edge. So, although his music attracts a sizable pop-oriented audience, it has enough subtlety and complexity for the mainstreamers.

Elario’s presents Round Two of its second annual Summer Series with this week’s appearance of flugelhorn player Art Farmer, in a quintet including saxophonist Clifford Jordan. Last week, the series opened with jazz sax great (and new San Diegan) James Moody. Moody had audiences practically in the bell of his sax with his endearing sense of humor and occasional vocals. The combination of Moody with locals Bob Magnusson on bass, Sherman Ferguson on drums and Bob Hamilton on piano jelled into a solid unit that gracefully worked its way through songs including “Sweet Georgia Brown,” “Body and Soul” and Jobim’s “Wave.”


Farmer is known for the warm, full sounds he gets from a flugelhorn, slightly larger than a trumpet. He became well-known for his sensitive interpretations of hard bop numbers written by saxophonist Benny Golson. Farmer and Golson’s Jazztet recorded a 1959 album while Farmer was still playing trumpet, before he switched to the deeper, mellower flugelhorn in 1961. Over the years, he’s played with Horace Silver, Gerry Mulligan, Thelonius Monk and Coleman Hawkins. Farmer and Jordan first hooked up in 1957 in pianist Silver’s band. Farmer appears with Jordan through Sunday, and Jordan will stay on for a second week at Elario’s, joined by trumpeter Harry “Sweets” Edison beginning Wednesday night.

Earlier this month, San Diego flutist Holly Hofmann was at Mixmaster Studios in San Diego recording her second album. “They don’t do a lot of jazz, but they have the best studio piano in town,” said Hofmann, who selected Mike Wofford to play keyboards for the session, along with Sherman Ferguson on drums and Bob Magnusson on bass. Hofmann says the new album is “very up-tempo, with very detailed arrangements. We mixed originals, standards and obscure standards, an obscure standard being Thelonius Monk’s ‘Green Chimney.’ ” The album should be available in October or November.

Rumor had KSWV-FM (102.9) dropping “The Jazz Show,” hosted by saxophonist David Sanborn, because rival KIFM (98.1) was selected to host Sanborn’s recent San Diego appearance. “No, we wouldn’t be mad at KIFM or David Sanborn,” reports Mike Shields, KSWV general manager. “We do periodic research like all radio stations do. Basically, the research said there’s no reason to carry the show.” KSWV isn’t threatening its competition. In the spring Arbitron ratings, released two weeks ago, KSWV pulled a 2.6 share in the 25-to-54 age group, a prime target for advertisers, compared with a 4.8 for KIFM. KSWV’s “cume,” the total number of listeners during a typical week, was 92,500, contrasted with 160,000 for KIFM.

San Diego sax man Gary Lefebvre’s new big band held its first rehearsal last Monday. The band will concentrate on the arrangements of Bill Holman, whose work has been played by the big bands of Stan Kenton and Woody Herman, and whom Lefebvre called “the greatest jazz writer right now.”


RIFFS: The Beach House, a new restaurant at Ocean Front Walk and Pismo Court in Mission Beach, is featuring jazz in its tiny bar. Tuesday through Saturday nights through September, you can hear Denver pianist Ellen Rucker. . . . On Friday, reed man Tripp Sprague’s fusion group plays Carlsbad’s summer jazz concert series, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Magee Park on Carlsbad Boulevard, three blocks north of Elm. . . . On Wednesday, pianist Harry Pickens gives the third of four lecture-demonstrations on “The Art of Improvisation” at The Athenaeum in La Jolla. . . . Free Flight plays at Fashion Valley Center on Sunday for the afternoon outdoor jazz series hosted by KIFM. . . . Keyboardist David Benoit does two Humphrey’s Concerts by the Bay shows Friday night. Last Saturday’s “Jazz Iz Forever,” the all-day music festival at the Education Cultural Complex in San Diego, attracted about 8,000 people, 3,000 more than last year.