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New Life for Pat Metheny Group,
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This review is from: The Way Up (Audio CD)
After 2002's "Speaking of Now" - surely the most dull, lifeless and unmemorable PMG group release ever - my expectations were not high that Pat Metheny and co-writer Lyle Mays could recapture the PMG magic shown in earlier classic albums. The main problem with SON seemed to be that after some fairly dramatic personnel changes - drummer Paul Wertico out, Antonio Sanchez (drums) and Cuong Vu (trumpet) in - was that the PMG did not sound like a coherent unit, with the new musicians not integrating with the central unit of Metheny, Mays and Rodby. The compositions on "Speaking Of Now" were uninspired and nothing that hadn't been heard before on other Pat Metheny Group albums. In many ways it seemed just to be going over old ground, and doing it worse.
And now, three years later, we have "The Way Up". The change in those intervening three years has been nothing short of revolutionary. The recording is a single 68-minute piece divided into four movements, a move away from the shorter pieces of previous albums and exhibiting scant regard for commercialism or airtime. You won't be hearing this one very much on the radio.
"The Way Up" is impossible to summarise. Yes, it's jazz, first and foremost. Not easy-listening jazz, not dinner jazz, not even a jazz heard on previous PMG recordings, but a type of jazz heard all too rarely these day : ambitious jazz. Music from the front line. Jazz from the edge. But it's not some awful, experimental atonal racket. It's music of sheer beauty.
Led by Metheny, all the musicians (joined on this outing by harmonica virtuoso Gregoire Maret) play passionately throughout, and there's an astonishing coherence to the way they interact. Metheny, as ever, is the guiding light; Mays' piano and keyboards, on this recording, are more subtle and less to the fore. Rodby's bass is as thunderous and as expressive as ever, while Sanchez drums with a ferocity and power that is truly stunning. He's put power back into the group.
The music itself is dense, complex and so difficult to assimilate on first hearing that you really HAVE to play this CD at least ten times to appreciate it all. It's worth the effort, because what at first seems strange and unfamiliar suddenly grabs hold of you and won't let go. The grand themes which Metheny and Mays are so good at creating are fewer here, but more subtle. The rest is imaginative, powerful, beautifully played improv-based jazz. The music takes us through urban landscapes, on a subway journey through the heart of the city, emerging from darkness into the sunlight of pastoral, tender moments of calm and tranquility.
Of the four movements, none can really be singled out as superior to any other, but Part 3 is perhaps the most interesting and varied musically. But the CD is really more than a sum of its four parts, and you really, really must listen to it on your own, preferably with headphones, and not have it on as background music.
I'd be very surprised if this CD didn't earn the PMG yet another Grammy. I love this CD, and I feel genuinely excited when I press the "Play" button. I haven't felt that way about a CD in a long time. Go buy it.
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Initial post: 5 Dec 2007 08:06:34 GMT
Phil Parker says:
As a PMG fan of many years and with almost all of Metheny's CD's in my collection I have also found TWU to be an absolute work of genius. I pre-ordered this album in January 2005 and within a month of listening I predicted that this album would take the Grammy for best jazz album. Of course the prediction proved to be correct and TWU is now one of my favorite PMG Albums. However I cannot agree with the comments about "Speaking of Now". I own both the CD and the Live DVD, both are excellent and well worth owning. The addition of Antonio Sanchez who technically is streaks ahead of Paul Wertico, Cuong Vu an absolute genius on trumpet have added a new dimension to PMG. The compositions on this album reaffirm the writing genius of the Metheny-Mays collaboration. Listen to "A Place In The World" "Proof" the performances of Vu and Mays on these two tracks is absolutely awe inspiring. In my opinion there isn't one bad track on this album and it really deserves the Grammy it was awarded. By the way my other favorite jazz outfit - the Yellowjackets were nominees in the same year and sadly for them they lost out
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