Have you ever listened to The Pat Metheny Group’s initial recordings from the mid-1970s? They’re wonderful, and this live performance of “Midwestern Nights Dream” gives us a feeling for their musical vision.
Midwestern Nights Dream (Live 1977)
Looking back at that period, Metheny can be seen as helping to usher in a “second wave” of jazz fusion groups. The first wave, from the early ‘70s, consisted of Return To Forever, Weather Report, and Herbie Hancock’s work as a leader. These groups were led by pianists Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul, and of course Herbie Hancock, respectively, who had all played with Miles Davis at the time when he was experimenting with ways to combine jazz and rock. (There were other groups as well, of course.)
After a few years, a new generation of musicians brought a new sound to what had become known as “jazz fusion.” Their music was influenced by the pop music of the ‘70s, and, in Pat Metheny’s case, incorporated country and folk influences as well.
As we can hear in “Midwestern Nights Dream,” Pat Metheny’s mellow, pearl-like guitar tones ring out over a repeating chord progression of Bm7/Gmaj7, along with some more complex sections which provide variety. The main body of the piece consists of these two chords, played with a straight-8ths “Charleston” rhythm, which would fit right into a, say, Steely Dan hit single.
Tunes like “Midwestern Nights Dream” offer us pianists some exciting possibilities. We can discover various ways to voice those two chords, Bm7 and Gmaj7. We can play them with jazzy rootless voicings, or we can explore more “open” textures and voicings that evoke folk music. We can play them pianistically, or we can emulate a fingerstyle guitarist. I enjoy playing in this way and I refer to it as “fingerstyle piano.”
The American Midwest, where Pat Metheny grew up, contains both gorgeous mountain ranges, such as the Ozarks, as well as wide open stretches of land that evoke a sense of wonder. I once played piano at a wedding in the Ozark mountains in southern Missouri, and while driving from the airport to the venue, I saw many billboards advertising country music performances. Country music and the American midwest are a natural match, so it’s not surprising to hear the midwestern-born Pat Metheny bring folk and country influences into his jazz fusion compositions and performances.
In my solo piano rendition of “Midwestern Nights Dream,” I enjoyed exploring this wide stylistic range. Although the piece is relatively simple, or maybe because it’s relatively simple, we find that our imagination can soar, just like an eagle flying high over the Ozark mountains.
This video will give you some ideas on how you can play this wonderful piece, and dive into “Jazz Fusion 2.0.”
Midwestern Nights Dream: Journey Through The Real Book #231
Enjoy the journey, and “let the music flow!”
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