Greg Federico is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Music Education at William Paterson University. He previously received his Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from Villanova University in 1991. Greg currently works as a sole proprietor, teaching private lessons on drums, percussion, and piano. He is also a freelance musician and has independently released four full-length jazz CDs of mainly original music. Greg has taught music for 28 years and has been a performer for 26 years.
The Perfect Soundtrack for My Life: Why “Secret Story” by Pat Metheny Is My All-Time Favorite Music Album
By Greg Federico
So many of us have heard, if not been outright asked, the question: “If you were stranded on a deserted island and you could only have one music album with you to listen to for however long you were stranded there, what album would that be?” Which is another way of simply asking: “What is your all-time favorite music album?” For me the answer to this question requires no deliberation, nor has it required any deliberation for more than half of my lifetime to this point. My favorite music album of all time is Secret Story, which is by my favorite music artist of all time, jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny.
Pat Metheny Secret Story CD Back Tray Card Artwork
Pat Metheny’s compositions have had such a profoundly inspirational impact on me over the past 33 years, not only in the way that I hear music as a professional musician but on a personal level as well, and have been a companion to me on so many of my travels during this span of time, that I’ve essentially come to regard his music as the soundtrack for my life – his album Secret Story, released in the summer of 1992, is the perfect collection of music representing this notion.
I clearly recall bringing this CD home from the record store at the very end of August in 1992 and verbalizing out loud to no one but myself, “Alright, Pat – take me there once again…”, as I loaded the disc into my CD player for the very first time – “there” being that “otherworldly place” of the soul that only the most special recordings have the capacity to deliver upon for each of us individually.
Featuring members of the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jeremy Lubbock throughout the over 76-minute, 14-track offering, Metheny manages to brilliantly create a diverse, multi-textured, captivating sonic world with Secret Story. Not only did this music “take me there” as I solemnly requested, but after immersing myself in the landscape of this amazing story filled with both energetic and emotionally touching tone poems (i.e. – “songs without words”), I have sought to return to this remarkably gripping story again and again ever since.
Pat Metheny Secret Story Promo Poster
Secret Story garnered Metheny a Grammy Award (his seventh overall to date) in 1993 for “Best Contemporary Jazz Performance Instrumental”. In his Pat Metheny Songbook, a folio of 167 of his compositions published by Hal Leonard Publishing in 2000 (which I was fortunate enough to assist Metheny in revising some years after its initial printing), there is a section in the front of the book which features album by album notes. Of Secret Story the following is written:
“Unquestionably one of Pat’s most personal and deeply felt musical statements. In addition to the emotional factor, Secret Story also exhibits Pat’s growth as a composer. From its Copeland-like orchestrations to its Cambodian children’s choir, Secret Story is truly a culmination of everything Pat has done to date.”
In an interview conducted by Tom Moon for Jazz Times magazine dated August, 1993 and entitled “Pat Metheny Gets Serious”, it was revealed that around the time of composing for Secret Story Metheny was growing less interested in simple tunes and was spending more time “working on ‘environments’ that set a mood.”
Metheny is quoted as saying, “‘We went back through the songs for a folio that’s coming out this year, and there were over 150 songs – which means that it’s a real challenge to avoid repeating something I’ve already written. One solution is coming up with these moods that take you in before there is even a melody. The guys in the band are calling it ‘The new density’, which is right, because it’s totally thick. There are at least four levels of activity going on all the time – melodies, counterlines, some sort of harmony, the rhythm, and usually improvisation. Secret Story was the first time I really started thinking like that – and there were places on that record where I wanted to fill every hole, to make it completely dense.'”
Secret Story: A Mind-Blowing Album!
The album opens with “Above the Treetops”, an adaptation of a Cambodian spiritual song featuring the Cambodian children’s choir, which has a poignancy that immediately drew me in to the story. This is followed by the energetically upbeat Midwestern stylings (or, as Metheny himself has often referred to it, his “Heartland Whatever Thing”) heard in “Facing West”, where heavy acoustic guitar strumming along with an acoustic bass groove (upon which the tune was built) drives the tune ever forward and serves as the primary backdrop for Metheny’s quintessential warm electric guitar in the solo sections. “Catherdral in a Suitcase” comes next and, according to Metheny, is “a study in polyrhythms, specifically three over two” as is written in the aforementioned notes that he penned for his songbook folio. Track four is the epic, three-part piece, “Finding and Believing”, which ambitiously features layer upon layer of sound and highly sophisticated orchestration.
“The Longest Summer”, a favorite of Metheny’s from this compositional period, is track five, followed by “Sunlight”, which Metheny informs (once again in the notes to his songbook) is “an attempt to modulate to as many keys as I naturally could in…a simple pop form.” Track seven is the mesmerizing “Rain River”, a tune based on an ostinato (i.e. – a repeated pattern) figure which is played on the electric sitar.
The following video contains two separate television appearances in which Metheny was promoting the recording during the summer of ’92. In both appearances he and two of his band mates, bassist Steve Rodby and percussionist Armando Marçal, perform a largely scaled down and shortened version of “Rain River”. The first segment of the video is from “Live With Regis & Kathie Lee” while the second segment is from CNBC’s “Real Life”.
There are several ballads on Secret Story, and these pieces in particular are each quite moving. One of the ballads, “Always and Forever”, is featured on track eight and is a tune that Metheny dedicated to his parents and the great relationship they had throughout their more than 50 years of life together. It’s one of my favorite pieces of the entire album.
Following this is the moderately up tempo, harmonically dense “See the World”. In his songbook folio Metheny cites this piece as “a difficult tune to solo on – one of the hardest ones, especially night after night.” Track ten is called “As A Flower Blossoms (I Am Running to You)” and is a piece that Metheny describes as “a simple idea with a reference to the kind of diatonic ascending lines that I always love.” (once again from the notes of the Pat Metheny Songbook). Akiko Yano, a great Japanese composer and musician wrote a short poem that is sung along with the melody at the end of the track, and this is where the title, translated from Japanese, came from.
Harkening back to the August 1993 Jazz Times article by Tom Moon, Pat is quoted as expressing the following sentiment: “Secret Story was ‘the culmination point for me of lot of stuff I’d been dealing with personally and as an artist. I never worked so hard for anything in my life – it was a mammoth undertaking. But if I had to pick, the last 20 minutes of Secret Story is about the favorite I’ve ever recorded. I don’t know what it is – it’s very written (out) and orchestrated, and yet it has some of the best improvised playing I’ve ever gotten on record.'”
The last (slightly more than) 20 minutes of the album (i.e. – tracks 11-14) features highly expressive musical statements of great emotional depth. With track eleven there is the lovely, seemingly Italian-inspired tune “Antonia” featuring Gil Goldstein on accordian. This is followed by an important piece for Metheny, “The Truth Will Always Be”.
In the song notes for his songbook, Metheny writes that “I have always felt that this particular tune summed up a bunch of personal and musical issues close to my heart.” My absolute favorite composition on the album is next – the ethereal, gorgeous, yearning piece, “Tell Her You Saw Me”, which Metheny has expressed is a special one for him to play.
The album concludes with the stunningly beautiful and poignant orchestrated composition, “Not to be Forgotten (Our Final Hour)”. Metheny himself does not actually play on this piece – rather it solely features the aforementioned members of the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Jeremy Lubbock.
On the 24th of November in 1992, I was privileged enough to have a third row seat at the State Theater in New Brunswick, NJ to witness Pat Metheny and his group on their Secret Story tour – it was one of the absolute best concerts I’ve ever witnessed in my lifetime.
A little over 10 years later, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that a DVD was made of that very performance. Of course that DVD became a valued collectable for me shortly after I discovered its existence. Here is video footage of Metheny and Co. from that concert on 11/24/92 performing my favorite tune from Secret Story, “Tell Her You Saw Me”.
In conclusion, Pat Metheny’s 1992 album Secret Story is 76+ minutes of sheer bliss for me as a listener. There is so much musical density in many places on this recording that after more than twice the number of years later since first experiencing such a wondrously sublime gem of an album – and after hundreds, if not thousands, of listens to it since that very first day I brought home my CD copy of it and voiced out loud to no one in the room but myself, “Alright, Pat – take me there once again…”, as I placed it in the CD player tray and hit the “play” button – remarkably, I am still discovering to this day new sounds that had previously not revealed themselves to my ears. But even more importantly than that, this is music delivered from the heart by Metheny – music which, in the deepest sense, truly resonates with my soul…and this: THIS is why Secret Story is a perfect soundtrack for my life and is unquestionably my all-time favorite music album.
Pat Metheny Performing Live