3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on 31 March 2012
This album is held by many to be the best by the Pat Metheny Group and I can understand why.
Pat Metheny had been with ECM records for some time when this album came about. Normally, Manfred Eicher (ECM founder) sets uncompromising (if somewhat ascetic) production standards for his acts, which was reflected in earlier recordings by the group (e.g., Offramp). However, I understand that the boss was away when this one was produced, and it shows, because it is somewhat a departure from the groups normally more straight ahead contemporary jazz approach, with a very lush, expansive production which suits this music very well.
This is more an album of songs, most of which are without words. "Yolanda", the title track and "Praise" all feature wordless vocals that were to become a signature for Metheny on subsequent albums (inc. "We Live Here", "Letter from Home", etc.). One even has words! ("Mas Alla", a romantic song with deeply melancholic Spanish lyrics). But what features here is almost cinematic composition and production. Indeed, the title piece is unique: almost a cinematic odyssey rather than a song, moving through several episodes to arrive at a climatic finale, full of passion and yearning. Pat doesn't solo on this piece, but then again, he doesn't need to, such is its beauty. However, Lyle Mays' solo here is sublime.
For those not yet familiar with Metheny's work, the overall sense of this work is of a very subtle fusion of easy going jazz, brasilian and progressive music, yet it does not sound like the hackneyed "soft jazz" of lesser muzakians (e.g. Lee Ritenour). Instead, the strength of the compositions, themes and arrangement, result in a very profound form of music. This is not easy to pull off without sounding cheesy, but Metheny is a million miles away from cheesy here.
The improvisation - although there, and up to Pat's and cohort Lyle Mays' usual standard - plays a secondary part to the songs which I defy (with one exception) anyone, jazz fan or not, not to find mesmerisingly beautiful. For those who would get withdrawal symptoms, Pat serves it up on "Tell It All" and "End Of The Game", whereas "If I Could" provides a romantic nylon string guitar piece that, coming from anybody else would be pure schmaltz, but from Pat comes across as tender and earnest.
The previously mentioned exception is the very first song, jokingly entitled "Forward March". It is nothing more than a bizarre joke and must be taken as such: think of a junior high school band of appallingly poor capabilities, trying to struggle their way through a rousing march, and you'll get the idea. Hilarious! I speculate this is a tribute to his trumpet-playing brother, Mike.
Other than that, this is the album that spawned a style unique in the jazz world, and which became a signature sound for this group: often imitated, but never equaled. If there was one Metheny album only that I could keep, it would be this one.
Five stars is not enough.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
From 1984 comes this beguiling Brazilian-pastoral-jazz -rock flavoured album featuring the usual ingredients that we'd expect from Mr Metheny: namely ear-friendly melodic instrumental music played with jaw dropping technical ability and plenty of drive. Believe the reviews that you may have read elsewhere regarding 'First Circle'. It's truly a beautifully put together piece of work- shimmering acoustic guitars,exotic keyboard textures and stunning wordless vocalizing, not to mention Pat's own highly distinctive lead guitar style all at the service of some stand out compositions. Try out the plaintive 'If I Could Tell' and the extended up tempo tone poem that is 'The First Circle' for a representative sample of what this collection has to offer. If that doesn't persuade you to part with your hard earned money, then nothing will.Great band,great compositions and lovely production job- therefore:highly recommended!
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 13 June 2009
this was my first taste of pat metheny, back in the day when CD players were new and CDs expensive, someone lent me this and said "ignore the first track its a joke".
this CD like no other made me buy most of pat metheny's back catalogue and go see him in concert when when he rarely comes to the UK YOU MUST for a concert experience you'll not forget. musicianship like you have never heard. i digress!
the first track is probably in common with many perceptions of jazz, random jumble of sounds to different beats. the rest of the album is pure jazz fusion heaven. while the tracks do have jazz departures, the melody and rhythm is such a strong introduction to jazz that this has to be one of the recommended albums to hear the style and understand it.
the climatic music of track 2, the gentle rhythms of track 3 leading through gentle audio alleyways, the peace and tranquillity of track 4 defining laid back, the percussive ongoing driving beat of track 5 with complex melodies, track 6 drifting along carrying you with its guitar and keyboards (reminiscent of this is not america david bowie), the melancholy of track 7, and the feeling of achievement from track 8 which not only nicely concludes the album, but if you've heard and loved the tracks, you are well on your way to dipping your toes further into jazz.
musically it is hard to define in any style, perhaps elements of level 42, very early camel, brand x, or jool's holland rhythm and blues orchestra but on a far tighter and passionate level.
as to the product, it is a shame it is not remastered, this is a 1984 original release, repackaged for 2008 but sonically i hear little difference in my original copy, which is a shame, but the recording is a very good one anyway. so don't let that put you off making it your first purchase, just buy it and treat your ears. for those who already own the 1984 release, sadly let's hope they issue a remaster. on my arcam equipment the stereo image and dynamic range is very, very good.
on 27 May 2014
Let's get past the first track, which is to be honest ridiculously awful (and most would not disagree) ... In fact lets start the album at track 2 ... and what you have is light, melodic, sunny, jazz-rock with elements of Prog, elements of Brazilian music, complex time signatures that groove so well you wouldn't notice the cleverness of what is happening here - and great memorable melodies. That is the key. On this album (in my view one of the Metheny's best) he and his stellar group which includes co-writer (on many tracks) Lyle Mays, create music which is incredibly clever and sophisticated in terms of rhythm, harmony, structure and group musicianship and yet this music always has the atmosphere, energy, production, groove and melodicism to appeal to anyone ... on repeated listens... The only thing close (perhaps a little better) in terms of marrying intelligent music making with pure hedonistic listening joy is Steely Dan.... But still, without a doubt a solid 4 stars (despite the false start of track 1)...
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 2 May 2010
If you don't know Pat Metheny's output this is a perfect starter (although the first track isn't typical). Forget the jazz connotations. This is just accessible and fascinating music. Try it. If you haven't discovered Metheny this is a perfect place to start.
If you like Pat Metheny you'll know what to expect from this period. I do. I did. And it was still a delight, although the first track is a bold, brave and pretty futile experiment.
This is a record that you'll keep playing, that'll make you curious about Lyle Mays (a curiousity that I'd recommend) and that'll give you a problem exploring the enormous (and enormously diverse) range of Metheny's back catalogue.
on 12 April 2012
I have loved this album for decades. I never get tired of it, I have to be careful not to listen to it too often because I never want to tire of it, it's that good. Even the first track is awesome, it's so funny!! How often do you get to hear jazz humor, after all? I'd gladly pay big bucks for a remastered version though. It's good, but, when played as part of a mix of other jazz, it's easy to hear that it could be improved. Same with Offramp, by the way.