In his exploration of the limits of solo production, Pat Metheny’s last album, Orchestrion, succeeded at bringing together his own musical thoughts and combining them with technology to create an orchestra driven off of a singular input. “While playing solo is not something that I focused on in the early going of my life as a musician, in recent years I have found a kind of freedom in it,” says Metheny of operating separately on a solo level. His latest project, What’s It All About, is a collection of acoustic covers of songs that have meant something to him, particularly in the early time period of his life where music was playing a more profound role.
Opening the album is a version of Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sound of Silence,” penned by Paul Simon, where Metheny uses his 42-string custom built “Pikasso” guitar, crafted by renowned luthier Linda Manzer. The unique guitar gives the arrangement somewhat of an ancient Chinese sound due to the way he plucks the strings; the guitar has been Metheny’s creative weapon in generating complex melodies. Following is a song whose harmonic introductory notes would lead you to think the cover is of Collective Soul’s 1995 song “December,” derived possibly from a younger generation, but rather, the piece reveals itself as a rendition of “Cherish” by The Association when the melody picks up.
With swelling crescendos, Metheny tributes 1960s surf music with a version of The Chantay’s “Pipeline.” With fast-paced quickly shifting rhythms, this song is one of the truest to its original of all the songs chosen for the album. Another notable track on What’s It All About is a rendition of Antonio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl From Ipanema,” where Metheny nearly arranges a completely new song, carefully extracting sections to keep the interpretation honest.
While fans of Pat Metheny’s may wonder what’s this project is really all about, these ten songs peer into his early developing youth introspective. What’s It All About is a deviation from his most prominent style of work in the last decade, but it is a relaxing and mellow assembly that allows for great acoustic improvisation throughout the entire listen.