Review: Dan Garner Quartet plays Pat Metheny at The Ellington Jazz Club

Dan Garner Quartet plays Pat Metheny at The Ellington Jazz Club
Wednesday, August 30, 2023

On a cool Djilba night, a super blue moon nearing full, The Ellington hosted a concert of chilled Pat Metheny jazz.

Dan Garner plays a hollow-body Eastman, a mahogany-finished retro-jazz guitar with a mellow tone and sweet action. It was an apt choice for this show given that Metheny’s first guitar, a gift from his dad at age 12, was a hollow-body Gibson. He stuck to that instrument through to the early 90s then abandoned it in favour of the more exotic ones he’d long been exploring—most memorably a bespoke 42-string Pikasso by Canadian luthier Linda Manzer.

Garner’s quartet comprised his old sidekick Tim Voutas on grand, the Ellington’s double bass-player du jour, Alistair Peel, and renowned drummer Talya Valenti.

The show covered a wide range of Metheny’s work, from his breakout 1975 album Bright Size Live through to 2007’s Metheny/Mehldau Quartet. Ever prolific, Metheny has since released a further seventeen albums, but heck this was a one nighter not a season at the jazz equivalent of Bayreuth.

Dan Garner

Garner made sure all of the core collaborators were included—Gary Burton, the leader of the first band Metheny played in; Lyle Mays, who died last year, Metheny’s mainstay partner throughout the 80s, 90s and noughts; Brad Mehldau his more recent ally, as well as the jazz legends Ornette Coleman and Herbie Hancock with whom Metheny has recorded one-off albums over his long career.

There was one solo guitar piece, The Bat, an edgy, classical guitar style composition mesmerising in the complex run of jazz chords that spidered up the fretboard, but the remainder stuck rigidly to the quartet format.

Metheny is famous for his very cool, lyrical playing. Like all jazz musicians, he is a great improviser, but his tunes are grounded in strong melodies and mellow atmospherics, easy on the ear and soothing to the soul. His other great trait is his collaboration with piano players—Mays, Mehldar and Hancock being prime cases. Garner emulated both of these qualities in this highly polished show.

The interplay between keys and piano was extraordinary. Voutas and Garner are long term musical partners. They love playing together and have forged a tight intuitive bond. It showed. The two duetted gorgeously, swapping seamlessly in and out of each other’s space, above and below, back and forth.

As with many melodic players, Garner’s solos did not always attract the immediate applause they deserved. The audience tended to save their spontaneous outbursts for Voutas’ stunning arpeggio passages and swooping crescendos, especially his solos on Secret Beach and When We Were Free.

Dan Garner

As always Alistair Peel put in a solid performance, his solos on Bright Size Live and Ornette Coleman’s Turn Around were standout moments, while Valenti is a very stylish and highly accomplished percussionist—she won the drummer WAMI in 2019. It was refreshing to see a female musician on stage at the Ellington. Apart from vocalists, recent shows have tended to be male dominant. Her subtle and complex playing underpinned perfectly the other players while her solos added flair to Hancock’s Cantaloupe Violet and the round robin on Turn Around.

But given the theme, it was Garner’ guitar that held the night together. A highly accomplished and versatile player, he melded subtly the defining lines from each tune with strong Metheny-mode improvisations. His range was impressive, best shown in Towards the Light, a Mehldar collaboration that built from slow controlled sustain into a very tight funky grunt before mellowing out in the denouement. Lush, gorgeous, dynamic and driving, the highlight of the night.

The evening ended with James, Metheny’s much-loved homage to James Taylor. A deceptively complex piece, it mixed some memorable Taylor melodies with classic a la mode Metheny. A chill tune to bring this strong show to a sweet resolution. The respectably busy house approved.

Garner is also highly regarded for his original compositions. It will be great when the Ellington hosts a night of these. But his chill Metheny work is worth waiting for, last week it proved the perfect salve for the werewolves gathering for the super-blue moon.


Photos by Alan Holbrook