An original, instantly recognizable guitarist from the 80's on, Pat Metheny is an artist who both gained and lost popularity over the years by taking chances musically. While his material with The Pat Metheny Group somewhat defies any set genre, it is melodic and accessible to the audience he has acquired, moving jazz past any standard definition and allowing him to work in whatever musical realm he chooses. Starting out on guitar at 13, he was a student at both the University of Miami as well as Berklee as a teenager, making his debut with legendary Jaco Pastorius and Paul Bley in 1974. From 1974-1977 he was involved with Gary Burton's group, met keyboardist Lyle Mays and formed a group of his own in 1978. He quickly the top artist on ECM's label and among the elite in the jazz realm, with the kind of popularity that sold out stadiums.
Away from his group Metheny has done stints as a sideman for the likes of Herbie Hancock (as well as a 1990 tour), Sonny Rollins, a trio album with Dave Holland and Roy Haynes, and a collaberation and tour with Joshua Redman. Consistantly creative, he has managed to retain his popularity and stay particularly active in the 21st century with the releases "As Witchita Falls, So Falls Witchita Falls" with Lyle Mays in 2000, "Speaking Of Now" in 2002, "One Quiet Night" in 2003, "Way Up" in 2005 and "Metheny Mehldau" in 2006. Metheny calls 2005's "The Way Up" the band's most ambitious undertaking ever as a group, likening it's creation to that of a film with quickly shifting musical images. The album won the group a 10th Grammy Award, and the 17th for Metheny.
Give the man (and group) credit; they are certainly not one to rest on their rather impressive laurels. The Pat Metheny Group is likely as busy as any major name in the business today. What the group means to do here is render an apt representation of "The Way Up"'s vision in a live setting; performed in April 2005 in Seoul, South Korea, this is a rather ambitious live undertaking as the album plays more like a symphony piece rather than a jazz or rock show, with no set tunes but rather parts, played straight ahead with no pauses. Composed by Metheny and long time collaberator and group co-founder Mays, the tracklisting here is simple enough- the Opening, Part One, Part Two, and Part Three. Metheny states that the band has been on a mission from the beginning, wanting to utilize their potential and abundance of ideas. According to Metheny the tour itself enabled the band to discover the piece in front of audiences around the world over a six month tour.
The group comprised here is listed as Pat Metheny, guitars; Lyle Mays, keyboards; Steve Rodby, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums and electric bass; Cuong Vu, trumpet, vocals, percussion and guitar; Gregoire Maret, harmonica, guitar, vocals, percussion and electric bass; and Nando Lauria, guiatrs, vocals, miscellaneous percussion and instruments. Metheny still has the long shock-like head of piled frizzy hair that was a trademark in his 80's heyday, and darned if I can remeber ever seeing him wearing anything but the kind of striped shirt as he does here. In fact the man looks to have not aged at all over the decades. Metheny has always been a consummate guitarist and like any fine craftsman, he obviously loves and takes pride in his tools. How many of those tools he uses to ply his trade here I didn't count but the number is easily a half dozen or more.
From the outset the listener is indunated with an
onslaught of instrumental textures, tones and half measures.
Both the allure and danger of a rolling, hour long progressive piece
such as this is the fact that it isn't for everyone. The sounds are
enticing and dynamic, but don't look for melodies to catch a fire and
stay burning, nor for anything one could construe as a 'song'. They
aren't here. This is wave after wave of peaking and receding
instrumentation, a few minutes evoking one emotional image then moving
on to another, keeping the listener involved with the project in a way
many similar offerings might not. One might expect a one hour musical
piece without a true structure to become somewhat tedious but I didn't
find that to be the case at all; the hour actually passed by quickly.
This is what I call progressive jazz at its most progressive. Any number
of bands were plying the trade in the 80's and particularly the 90's to
the point that contemporary jazz stations seemed saturated with this
type of music. The Rippingtons, Yellowjackets, Spyro Gyra, and Acoustic
Alchemy (to name a few) came to prominence in this category during the
period. Personally I jumped on the bandwagon in the early 90's and have
several of Pat Metheny's fine pieces from the day on my shelves so I
obviously have some love for it. Ultimately I veered away from
progressive jazz in time, in the end preferring music with more structure.
What is of note here is the fact that this is Metheny, Mays and group-
wonderfully talented innovators in the progressive jazz genre who do it
as well if not better than anyone else in the business.
What one hears here may not necessarily be new, but it's construction is
such as to be highly entertaining and perhaps a bit more accessible than
one might expect; both resounding and delicate, this is Metheny as he
has been throughout the decades, giving his fans what they have come to
expect from his recordings.
Colors are deep, vibrant, gorgeous. Sharpness is outstanding. Vivid contrast. I find little to fault with the video quality rendered here.
Choices are three- PCM Stereo, Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS Surround Sound. Again, Eagle Rock has done an outstanding job of bringing high fidelity to the viewing/listening audience- the sound here is lush and spacious, a highly enjoyable aural experience overall.
Clocking in at 22 minutes, a very humble, personable Metheny speaks in
detail on the group's methods and their execution over the years, and
the fact that while the band is at its most basic core a quartet, there
is always something else floating around in their music and style of
playing; he also touches on a number of interesting topics involved with
both the undertaking of this extended project as well as the difficulty
in bringing it to a concert setting. Giving a listen to this one extra
is well worth your time.
This is something of a smorgasboard for fans of progressive jazz,
delivering a full hour of the Pat Metheny Group playing as well as I've ever
heard them; so if you're even a casual fan of the genre you'll probably
enjoy giving this DVD a spin on your home theater setup. Recommended.