The Pat Metheny Group
CD Label: Nonesuch
I've been a Pat Metheny fan since I first discovered him back in the late 70's. Pat is actually the one that turned me onto modern Jazz as we now know it. My first PMG record was the 'White Album' which featured Pat Metheny, Lyle Mays, Dan Gottlieb and Mark Egan. Over the years, Pat and Lyle have continued to amaze me with their seemingly limitless talent.
It is utterly amazing when you sit back and actually look at some of Pat's (and the groups) accomplishments. To date, Pat has won 16 Grammy's in nine separate categories not to mention countless other Jazz awards from the likes of Downbeat Magazine, Rolling Stone, Cashbox, Guitar Player, plus many others. In fact, PMG is the only ensemble in history to win seven consecutive Grammy awards for seven consecutive releases. These guys are seriously gifted musicians.
Over the years Pat and Lyle have rotated the lineup of the band to reflect the musical message they wanted to convey. Over 20 years ago, Steve Rodby joined the band taking over from bassist Charlie Hayden. In the past couple of years, PMG added a phenomenal talent, Antonio Sanchez. Antonio stepped into the drummers chair. Antonio is no ordinary talent by any stretch of the imagination. All you have to do is give a listen to the difference between their two previous studio albums We Live Here and Imaginary Day, then give a listen to Speaking Of Now.
Even though on Speaking Of Now PMG also added Cuong Vu and Richard Bona, you can clearly hear how Antonio absolutely re-invigorated Pat, Lyle and Steve. Simply put, Antonio could be the single best drummer in the industry, regardless of genres. Also back for an encore performance on The Way Up is Cuong Vu, trumpeter extraordinaire. Rounding out the cast is harmonica player Grégoire Maret, Brazilian guitarist Nando Lauria, mallet cymbalist Dave Samuels and Richard Bona (who also appeared on SON).
In another major change for the group, PMG finds themselves recording for the Nonesuch label. Pat is paired with one of his early mentors in the record industry, Robert Hurwitz. Pat and Robert worked together for nine years back when Pat was with ECM in the late 70's and early 80's. Along with the new label, Pat is bringing with him much of his back catalog. Basically everything from Song X (1986) forward. We don't know yet what the plans are but as soon as I find out, I'll let you know.
The Way Up... In A Different Way
The Way Up is PMG's twelfth studio album. This one is a little different. It's one single composition that lasts for 68 minutes. PMG has broken this up into four separate parts. Specifically "Opening," "Part One," "Part Two" and lastly "Part Three." Now I'm sure you are thinking to yourself, "How on earth is this piece going to hold my attention for over an hour?" Not to worry, this composition has enough twists and turns to keep even the shortest of attention spans, more than occupied.
As I prepared to do this review, I went back and listened to a bunch of PMG's releases to get a perspective of the groups growth (musically) over the years. I'd bet I listened to eight or ten of their albums plus a few that Pat recorded with other musicians. It's always enjoyable to see how much musicians grow (compositionally) over time and PMG is no different. With The Way Up, Pat, Lyle and Steve have pulled from their collective experiences since the beginning of the group.
The Way Up follows a basic theme that carries the rest of the composition. Actually, there are a couple of themes. The first that you hear in "The Opening" gets expanded on later in the piece but the main theme is the riff at the beginning of "Part One." PMG takes these themes and builds on each of them in only a way that true Jazz improvisations could allow. "The Opening" starts as an intensely rhythmic piece that is anchored by Antonio's drums. Slowly, the familiar sound of Lyles piano and Pats guitar are revealed setting the stage for the tone of the rest of the album. Sharp, quick notes define what will become one of the primary colors of this sonic tapestry.
The primary thread that weaves throughout this composition is the musical statement in the opening of "Part One." As I listened to this for the first time, I noticed it had a very familiar feel to it. For the life of me I couldn't put my finger on it though. It was as if I had heard this hook before, that or something really similar. A week or two later I was in my workshop deconstructing a vintage amp and listening to a release that John Scofield and Pat put out in 1994 called I Can See Your House From Here when it hit me. Midway through the song "Quiet Rising" I heard the riff. Well, it wasn't the actual riff note for note, but it was a distinct variation.
This variation of twelve simple, yet remarkably melodic, notes carry the main theme of the entire composition. Of course, Pat Lyle and Steve take this simple theme and expand on it like no others possibly could. With the addition of Cuong's voice adding textures ripping over the top of the theme, PMG paints an amazing aural picture. This sonic canvas becomes PMG's improvisational playground.
If you know PMG's works, you are well aware of the amount of orchestration they undertake with each new release. Layer upon layer of voices are added to their opus until all sonance meet harmoniously to form a texture impressive and exhilarating. Throughout the rest of this release, PMG improvises the best of their best. From their cutting edge approach to modern Jazz to their unique interpretations on Bop, this could be their finest release to date. I've got no doubts The Way Up will find it's way into this years Grammy's in several different categories.
Let me suggest you surf up to the PMG website and give it a listen. Pat has provided about a three minute segment of "Part One." This will give you a good feel for this release. Look for The Way Up Audio Player and click on it. This opens a new window for a high bitrate stream.
In February of '05, the Pat Metheny Group is embarking on a world tour in support of The Way Up. Their travels bring them across the heartland and beyond. PMG has scheduled over thirty domestic stops and as many international ports of call. In the next month (or two) look for my exclusive interview with Pat. We'll be talking about The Way Up, touring, the group and music in general. It should be a pretty interesting read for all you Pat Metheny fans.
This release comes with my highest recommendations. Even for those of you that are not true fans of jazz as a genre, you will find this an extremely pleasurable album.