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Jazz Reviews : Mike Metheny's Quest for Greater Visibility

June 14, 1988|DON HECKMAN

Most of fluegelhornist Mike Metheny's career has been spent in the large shadow cast by his younger brother, guitarist Pat. But his signing with MCA records two years ago was the first step in a continuing effort to find his own place in the spotlight.

Friday night, in the opening set of a three-night stand at Catalina Bar and Grill aimed at supporting his new album, "Kaleidoscope," Metheny revealed some of the strengths and some of the weaknesses in his quest for greater visibility.

An understated player whose improvised lines occasionally recall the obsessive introversion of the early Chet Baker, Metheny compounded the sense of musical passivity by playing a program heavy in moody ballads.

His opening two numbers, "Day In--Night Out" and "Fantasy," were performed on a Steiner EVI, an electronic wind instrument controller that allows the performer to access a wide range of synthesized and sampled sounds. But Metheny used it to produce tones that were, if anything, even more laid-back than his already too-mellow fluegelhorn.

Paul Desmond's elegant line on "Wendy" triggered a more appealing solo from Metheny, but a strangely turgid lope through Miles Davis' "Half Nelson" seemed to totally misunderstand the piece's be-bop origins.

Only on his final number--a funky, rhythm-drenched work by his brother titled "Pat's Blues"--did Metheny finally break through his creative moodiness and produce the kind of energetic vigor that his music so urgently needs. Perhaps it's time for him to consider that his own visibility does not necessarily depend upon a day-and-night contrast with his more outgoing sibling.

Pianist Brad Hatfield, bassist Marshall Wood and drummer John Riley provided solid if fairly predictable support.

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