In my "real life" away from my reviewing duties at DVD Talk, I've had the great privilege of performing and recording with some wonderfully great jazz musicians. One of these, a justly renowned, critically acclaimed Downbeat poll winning guitarist with many legendary albums to his credit, once confided to me, "In the world of jazz guitar, there's Pat Metheny, and then there's everybody else." Metheny has managed to be both a critical and popular darling for decades now, with his brilliant technique wedded to a compositional style that, in his longtime collaboration with keyboardist Lyle Mays at least, manages to satisfy both the jazz audience and a perhaps less discerning, pop-oriented listener. That fabulous genre crossing ability is abundantly on display on this live concert DVD, which presents the album Imaginary Day in concert form, with some nice augmentations of the CD versions.
What is frankly off-putting about this DVD, and prevents it from receiving my "highly recommended" rating, is an annoying visual presentation that not only mixes frequently changing aspect ratios (some as bizarre as 1.16:1), but also has a flurry of other unneeded special effects, including slow motion and strange boxes of black-and-white inserted into an otherwise all-color picture, as well as occasional split-screen moments in a variety of sizes. While I understand the need to make a DVD concert's visual presentation less than boring, all of these bells and whistles actually become distracting after a while, leaving me at least wanting to just listen to the glorious music and forget the accompanying imagery.
And what glorious music it is, from Metheny's solo introduction (on his custom-built, multi-necked guitar), "Into the Dream," through the beautiful longform title song, the funk-laden "The Roots of Coincidence," where Mays actually joins Metheny on guitar, and, in one of the nicer, quieter moments, a beautiful solo piece with Metheny sitting simply with a plain old acoustic and playing it gorgeously on "Message to a Friend."
The bulk of the support props need, as usual, to go to Mays, who co-wrote most of the songs with Metheny and provides the anchor around which Metheny is able to take his brilliant flights of guitar fancy. I still remember being introduced to Mays' own music by one of my university jazz instructors, who, like Mays, had graduated from North Texas' vaunted jazz program. My professor put on a song of Mays called "The Adventures of Supertonic" (a great pun for those of you musically inclined) and I listened to one incredibly gifted pianist glide over sumptious changes. That same grace marks all of Mays' work with Metheny, and he is featured here to the hilt.
However, special mention must be made of two ostensible "background" guys, Mark Ledford and Philip Hamilton, who not only sing, but also play guitar, trumpet, melodica and percussion (including some nifty hand-clapping on one tune). The whole band, including Paul Wertico on drums, Steve Rodby on bass, and Jeff Haynes on additional percussion, sound magnificent together and play off of each other with the sort of intuition that only comes from long years together.