I have added the comma to the official title of Jason Vieaux’s concert at Maverick Concerts in Woodstock, Saturday evening, July 9. But even without it, doesn’t “Metheny and the Masters” suggest that Pat Metheny is other than a master? I took the title as inadvertent truth in advertising.
Vieaux, a splendid guitarist, has recently been focusing much of his attention (including a new CD) on music by the jazz guitarist Pat Metheny. I am at a loss to explain why. Metheny’s tunes might serve as worthwhile fodder for jazz improvisations. But the amount of attention Vieaux draws to them with his arrangements exposes them as not distinctive, not really worthy of the arrangements he has made of them. Nearly half of Vieaux’s recital was made up of Metheny arrangements: an unmemorable bossa nova called “The Road to You,” a bland tune called “The Bat” transformed into a tremelo etude, and a group of five ordinary-sounding melodies turned into the movements of a Baroque suite. Joshua Rifkin – who played at Maverick a few years ago – had the same idea in the mid-sixties when he arranged the “Baroque Beatles” album. Even that was mostly a novelty, but at least Rifkin had better tunes to work with.
Another major item of the recital brought its own mix of satisfactions and dissatisfactions. Bach’s Lute Suite No. 1 (BWV 996) was played so stylishly that I never minded the substitution of the guitar for a lute. However, Vieaux referred to the piece as “a relatively short suite” and then made it so by omitting nearly all of the repeats. What made this even more frustrating was that, in the Bourrée, Vieaux did take the repeats and embellished them in a very satisfying way. If he had treated the entire suite similarly it would have made for much better experience.
Still, despite my complaints, there were enough successes to make the concert worthwhile. Vieaux’s playing of Albéniz”s “Sevilla” and Ponce’s “Sonatina Meridional” was highly idiomatic, very clearly executed and flavored with much rhythmic freedom. (Oddly, he often seemed to have trouble articulating the central note in triplets in both of these works, although he played more difficult passages flawlessly.) And the performance of Britten’s magnificent Nocturnal, possibly the greatest guitar work of the 20th century, was as evocative and expressive as any I’ve ever heard.
What the hell. Vieaux is quite young. And he’s got a lot of virtues on which to build.