Justin Poon is a sixth-semester student at Berklee studying performance and electronic production and design. As a founding member of Affiliated Gallery, a creative design group based in Toronto, Justin is involved in film scoring and sound design. He is also involved in producing for singers and hip-hop artists wherever he can find them. He apologizes sincerely for the dotted eighth-notes in his transcription.
“Long Before” is a tune out of one of my all-time favorite jazz records, Metheny Mehldau Quartet. The album features the two masters with Brad Mehldau’s signature trio members, Jeff Ballard on drums and Larry Grenadier on bass. The music in the album is certainly not award-winning innovation in jazz harmony, but the material is played (and mixed) so well that it feels very organic. The interplay between the musicians is so obvious that it enables one to truly experience the essence and spirit of jazz. If someone were to ask me what records a newcomer to jazz should listen to, I would definitely include this album in that list.
The tune is a waltz, but in more of a straight 6/8th and almost half-time feel than your typical Parisian waltz. Written by Pat Metheny, the tune is strongly centered on A-minor, where he uses a lot of deceptive motion and root activity to make the chord progressions more interesting. I think that he very much composed this piece with Brad in mind knowing of his almost unparalleled harmonic sense especially in this style of music. If you are looking at the transcription you can see that there are not a lot of rests in the solo, but the true gift is his motivic development, and the soul he puts behind the articulations.
Right from the get-go (Bar 9), he starts building motifs to get the groove rolling and to ascend in intensity. The first 4 bars are natural minor, and then the color changes to harmonic minor. Pat ebbs and flows between playing laid-back and playing on top of the beat, as well as going into different time feels and subdivisions of the quarter note. He has a lot of bebop vocabulary that shows up in his line playing (Bar 16, 26) that is reminiscent of Charlie Parker or other horn runs. I really enjoy his double-mode scale run to the high A using melodic minor as well as implying harmonic minor.
Pat’s blues influence can be heard when he uses the box shape to solo, as he can be often heard using typical blues licks or guitar articulations (Bar 15, 31). You can hear many sounds exclusive to the guitar that make the solo special such as bends (Head in), (well-placed) harmonics (Bar 42), and dead notes/strums (Bar 25).
Pat enters the double-time realm (Bar 43) using a very woodwind oriented line, opening up the phrase with the famous Coltrane 1235 patterns, going down to using an array of half diminished scales (Bar 45-46) into the Cmaj7 chord, which he phrases very “guitaristicly,” even making use of the loud drone of the low E-string. Note that pull-offs are integral to this sort of downwards run. To me, this run is very symbolic of Pat’s ability to use the guitarist’s thinking as well as horn or piano sounding licks. One of Pat’s biggest influences is Wes Montgomery, who is deemed the innovator of the octaves in jazz guitar, and you can hear Pat’s expressiveness with that influence near the end of this tune (bar 53).
Pat uses 4-over-3 rhythms frequently in this solo, and plays it in a more sincere fashion every time sometimes with octaves, especially to take advantage of harmony changes to really drive that point home (Bar 32, 37, 39, 56, 63).
As he closes his solo and starts playing the head, Pat becomes more and more relaxed in his feel, until he can unexpectedly strike hard again at (Bar 71) with a double-time, almost horn-like run that involves a little bit of chromaticism. The song ends with a short dialogue between Brad and Pat, both taking jabs at providing melodic content over an 8-bar vamp, while maintaining the build-up of the end of the song. Both players are using their instruments to the fullest extent to truly express themselves and be individual while playing the tune. I’m in love with the way Pat closes off the tune using the phrases he used; it almost reminds me of Keith Jarrett’s phrasing in the way that he is sympathetic but a little behind on the beat while still being completely on point and making the listener believe that is the perfect and only way to end of a tune so beautiful.
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