offrampThis is relatively early Metheny (from his third album, Offramp), but it’s one of his best and has stood the test of time.  It’s a slow-burner lasting more than eight minutes – perhaps that’s the reason for the title as the listener must be patient while the underlying changes work through.  Acting like a continuo part, the rhythm guitar, bass and percussion provide the harmonic basis for improvisation, but also (along with some wispy counter-melodies on top) sets the mood and the pace of the piece from the outset. It’s more than a riff, it’s an ostinato that plays out over a very long timescale. Compared to a typical 12 bar blues, the complete cycle of changes spans 48 bars before it repeats, divided (after the eight bars of introduction) into two sections of sixteen bars followed by two sections of eight bars.  The entire 48 bar sequence is used three times, the first as backing for a harmonica-sounding keyboard solo, and the second and third for Metheny’s extended guitar-synth solo. Because of this timespan it’s hard to keep track of exactly where you are until you get to know the piece.

The overall architecture is a gradual build up to a climax, and then a slight easing off at the end (at least in the recorded version – played live the build is often maintained right until the slow coda). Aside from the obvious rise in volume and the growing intensity of Metheny’s solo, this is achieved by various means. The ostinato part changes gradually, for instance with additional rhythm on high keyboards for the second repeat, and the bass part gradually broadens out until it’s revealed as a full bossa-nova like line (a little reminiscent of Horace Silver’s Song For My Father).  Then there are two modulations as the sequences complete, racking the key up a semitone each time.

There are comparisons to be made here with minimalist music, perhaps, but also with Ravel’s Bolero, in which the melody lines similarly unwind over very long phrases on top of an ostinato grouped over two 18-bar sections which alternate. Interestingly, “Are You Going With Me?” also works surprisingly well as an orchestral piece – at least when lovingly transcribed and played (in 2003) by the Netherlands-based Metropole Orchestra with Pat Metheny himself as the soloist.

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