The first recorded meeting of guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau, Metheny/Mehldau, was an intimate, almost chamber-like affair, albeit one with some heated improvisations. Quartet, their second meeting, finds them sounding like a stripped-down version of the Pat Metheny Group. But this is a leaner, looser band, with freewheeling support from Mehldau's trio of drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier on all but a couple of tracks. The guitarist and pianist are a good match for Metheny's dramatic and lyrical inclinations, seducing the more angular and cerebral Mehldau like teasing threads from a knot. Mehldau is a pianist of exploratory dimensions, and he gives himself free reign here. There's intimate, Jim Hall/Bill Evans-style duos like "Ring of Life" that you might expect, but also out-and-out free-form electric excursions like "Summer Day" that recall Metheny's 1980s work with Billy Higgins and Charlie Haden on Rejoicing. While maintaining a unified sound, Quartet is nevertheless an album of contrasts, as Metheny drives into his synth guitar on "Legend," tossing in a heavy-metal bridge, but also goes a bit pastoral and medieval on "Ahmid-6," strumming what sounds like a harp-guitar, although it could be his guitar-synth. With deeply empathetic playing and a broad stylistic palette, Quartet never wears thin. --John Diliberto
Pat Metheny - the legendary guitarist, improvisor, composer, band-leader, record breaking Grammy winner and all round stone-cold genius can play. We know this. He has been the poster boy of jazz guitar for well over 25 years now and in fact has continued to grow in stature and importance with every passing year. Brad Mehldau is an acolyte of Bill Evans (name a jazz pianist of the recent vintage who isn't!) that burst onto the scene in 94 when he appeared on Joshua Redman's "Moodswing" and then his own influential Trio recordings. He can play too. We know this. What we didn't know, until they did it, was whether two of the best instrumentalists of the age could play together. Well, that question was answered to stunning effect with last year's Metheny Mehldau. The sessions then proved beyond doubt that 2 geniuses can occupy the same space at the same time and create something even bigger than the two of them. No ego, no competition, just a sublime understanding of each others skills that produced one of the albums of the year.
Quartet was recorded at the same session but this time all 11 tracks feature Mehldau's trio rhythm section of Larry Grenadier, bass, and Jeff Ballard, drums. Even better than the former, this is just a fantastic album of incredible musicianship which never loses sight of the primacy of the melody. Neither intrument is allowed to dominate the other - neither tries to dominate - but instead both weave together in an almost symbiotic way.
From the opening bars of "A Night Away" you have a statement of intent - lyrical, pastoral, contemplative, the guitar takes the lead first with a sensitive backing from the piano before roles are switched and the piano bursts into life with glorious runs and cascades which never get too showy or self-involved, and again they swap, and again. This is real playing.
In the context of the duo, Metheny's change of guitars from electric to acoustic could perhaps jar the senses slightly, but here, rooted by the rhythm section these changes pay off and excite rather than confuse the listener. The pace is varied, there are constant flourishes and changes of tempo and tone to keep your attention and the standard of playing from all present is just incredible. These guys understand pacing and texture, they let a track build it's own internal drama and follow the tune all the way.
No, they haven't invented a new art form, and yes, the pairing of piano and guitar can become something of a straightjacket that leads two such simpatico players into a slight sense of sameness (and no - Metheny should never, ever use the synth guitar again!). But this would be to miss the point - they are not trying to change the world. Instead of changing it, they do something more subtle - they make it disappear...and for that we should all be thankful. --Guy Hayden
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