The world renown Pat Metheny Group, now almost 30 years, 200 compositions, 7,000 gigs and 16 Grammy awards into their collective career, is about to release "The Way Up", their first effort on new label, Nonesuch and though every release may not be groundbreaking, this one is. Startling and riveting, to say the least, in its 68 minute journey - which is all a single piece (though ID’d as four for track navigation purposes)- another groundbreaking aspect of "The Way Up".
Just the fact that Metheny’s now recognized by the Grammy board in more categories - nine - than any other artist ever says a lot relative to his mindset in creating music in the first place: nothing's off limits, for one. Among the adjectives that quickly come to mind are: fearless, fiercely original, exploratory, insular, expansive, lyrical and again, truly ground-breaking. With the continued blurring of stylistic boundaries, limitless energy and spirituality present, this is the record many of us have felt was always in this group, just waiting to happen. And it has; a tour-de-force if there’s ever been one.
Making profound use of recently added drummer Antonio Sanchez, the group easily navigates territory even they had only previously hinted at exploring. At once, film score, small-band-does-its-highly-dynamic-orchestral thing, and group improvisation concerto. Unexpected textures blending relentlessly, yet seamlessly into a cohesive whole that constantly keeps you seat-edged and continuously surprised, as the spirit of all great jazz and true improvisation is meant to do.
Still the core group of keyboardist/co-composer Lyle Mays, bassist Steve Rodby and Metheny playing with and off of Sanchez is what makes it all happen. Though bassist Richard Bona from ‘02’s "Speaking of Now’ has left, the group’s still expanded by the brilliantly articulate trumpet texturalist/vocalist Cuong Vu and new add harmonicist Gregorie Maret. In addition, the group will also be adding Nando Lauria to the lineup.
"We found ourselves with a drummer who is probably one of the most talented musicians of his generation", says Metheny regarding Sanchez. "His presence in the band really gave me the chance to kind of reflect on everything this group has historically been all about and where we could take it from here.... .there was this sense of the possibilities feeling totally unlimited", Pat continues.
On "The Way Up", Pat’s in rare form, devouring the changes with patented abandon like they were an unexpected Thanksgiving meal on a deserted island as the group supports, interjects and builds the dynamic intensity over the long haul.
Though far from derivative, the last third of the second ‘movement’ inadvertently manages to evoke references to "Goodbye Porkpie Hat". At times the group almost presents as a hybrid between the Metheny group and trio, which may not be that much a surprise considering how much time Pat spends on the road with the trio, also including Sanchez.
As far as the creation of the composition goes, Metheny articulates that he and co-writer Mays have gravitated towards longer forms, but nothing yet like this, "There is a compositional integrity to the whole thing as a single piece. Each part of the structure is supported and dev-eloped over time and there are connections between things that are slowly revealed over the course of the whole piece" he explains. "Recording a long form piece like this had challenges that we had never really run across before and in many ways was like shooting a film", Metheny continues.
In the process of its creation and performance a realization of the politics and value of the music relative to the world as it is ensued: "At the time we started this writing, we saw this as kind of a protest record. It could be seen as our protest against a world where fear has become a political and cultural weapon". Amen. "A protest against a world where a lack of nuance and detail is considered a good thing, a protest against a culture that values that which can be consumed in the smallest bites over the kinds of efforts and achievements that can only come with a lifetime of work and study". "We wanted to present something modern using modern tools and techniques to give another perspective. We wanted to go deep inside the things we felt this material and this group could offer, and extend them. This is a continuation of everything we’ve been doing. I think we’ve been leading towards an effort like this for quite awhile"
It's going to be interesting to see how the group takes such an ambitious project to the live stage, but we’ll get our chance later this winter when PMG takes it from the road to you.
"The Way Up" streets January 25th and the tour begins February 17th in Buffalo, NY.