Friday, April 27, 2007

Metheny Mehldau Quartet

Metheny Mehldau Quartet

Those with large comic collections in their youthful past may remember Marvel Team-Up, the series that joined together diverse characters from the comic company’s universe for a short story arcs. Jazz has produced roughly analogous couplings of big named pairings for a series of sessions, including Jimmy Smith-Wes Montgomery, Freddie Hubbard-Woody Shaw, and Red Rodney-Ira Sullivan. Following in the tradition of jazz team-ups, comes the second Pat Metheny-Brad Mehldau collaboration, simply titled Quartet.

The guitar and piano combination can be fraught with chordal pitfalls, but the musical compatibility of Metheny and Mehldau makes it work seamlessly. Together with Mehldau’s regular rhythm associates, drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier they perform some very melodic jazz of a high order.

Well sequenced, Quartet starts with Ballard’s rim-shot kicking off “A Night Away,” the one tune of the set co-written by the co-leaders. It is a catchy, up-tempo performance with inventive solos, propelled along Ballard’s drumming.

While titled Quartet, there are four duets on the disc, including “The Sound of Water,” given a somewhat exotic sound by Metheny’s 42-string Pikasso guitar. In duo performances like “Don’t Wait” Metheny and Mehldau’s warmly sympathetic playing demonstrate that guitar and piano can get along sometimes.

There are some strong compositions recorded on Quartet. Metheny’s “Towards the Light” is a fascinating composition for the shifts in tone and dynamics within the tune itself. It begins with Mehldau’s dark ruminations over Ballard’s insistent pulse, until Metheny takes over on the guitar synth. Around the 6:10 they segue into a propulsive rock beat, and then settle into an airy contemplative closing.

“En La Tierra Que No Olvida” is another Metheny composition that starts with a strong melodic hook. Like some of his best work, it is a bright, shimmering tune, again featuring sparkling solos from the quartet leaders.

The two M’s have shown an interest in cinema. Metheny composed several soundtracks, including A Map of the World and The Falcon and the Snowman, while Mehldau contributed to the Eyes Wide Shut and Million Dollar Hotel soundtracks. Therefore, it follows naturally that Quartet would include two songs which reference cinema: the two concluding tracks, “Silent Movie” and “Marta’s Theme” (from Metheny’s score for the Italian film Passagio per il Paradiso), both of which are played with a thoughtful delicacy.

The comparison between jazz artists and comic super heroes might well be apt, because feats of daring and endurance are routinely expected of both. Listeners will be happy with the latest collaboration of the M’s, and further encounters will be quite welcome.