Guitarist Pat Metheny’s touring policy amounts to a revolving lending library, as he rarely does the same thing from year to year. Last year, Metheny showed up in Los Angeles with pianist Brad Mehldau’s group, trying to fuse two decidedly different musical personalities. On Sunday night, he reverted to the guitar-bass-drums trio format in which he made his recorded debut as a leader in 1975 and irregularly revives now and then. Again, Metheny reassured fussy jazz buffs that he remains loyal to his and their roots, and it was clear he enjoys a good joust with a pair of virtuosos.
Metheny came out alone for 22 minutes — not a good idea on this night, for he strummed somewhat aimlessly on acoustic guitar trying to find his bearings, reaching for some Jobim (“How Insensitive”) before finally wallowing in the gleaming, microtonal resonances of his 42-string Pikasso guitar. Once his current partners — bassist Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez — appeared, Metheny found his direction and never looked back.
Metheny, McBride and Sanchez have been performing together for a few years — they played Walt Disney Concert Hall in 2005 — but only this month did a recording of the three, “Day Trip” (Nonesuch), appear in the shops. At least five tunes from the CD surfaced in the set, ranging from the burning bebop of the aptly named “Let’s Move” to a folk-like, Midwestern-flavored meditation on the Katrina disaster, “Is This America?”
Together, the three were a reminder of the significant linear influence Ornette Coleman has had on Metheny’s trios from the beginning, though without going into Coleman’s repertoire.
McBride’s bristling, high-speed tremolos and string-popping attacks gave him all the stimulus he needed. Sanchez tended to be a very busy drummer, even in laidback tunes, but he could still keep things propelling forward. And Metheny remains as eclectic as ever, mixing it up with Sanchez on a breathlessly fast “All the Things You Are,” ambling with McBride through “My Funny Valentine” and concluding with some shredding guitar-hero rock.