Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Way Up Live

The Way Up Live
Pat Metheny Group
Eagle Eye Media

With the most recognizable hair and striped shirts in jazz, Pat Metheny is one of most successful contemporary jazz artists. However, the range Metheny has shown over the course of his career, playing adventurous sets with avant-garde legend Ornette Coleman, composing atmospheric soundtracks for films like Falcon and the Snowman and A Map of the World, and leading one of the top fusion-influenced combos with frequent collaborator Lyle Mays, has left some casual observers confounded as to who the real Metheny is. One reason The Way Up was such an important recording when it was released, is that it seemed to synthesize everything the guitarist has previously explored, into a coherent, album-length statement. It was also great music, so The Way Up Live, featuring the Pat Metheny Group performing this extended piece in Seoul, is a welcome DVD arrival.

The Way Up is a complex work co-composed by Metheny and his frequent writing partner Lyle Mays. To perform it live essentially requires a concert-length time commitment. In the DVD bonus interview, Metheny says: “I almost really have to say, we kind of tricked ourselves by saying ‘okay, we’re never gonna play this live, so we don’t have to worry about it.’”

It turned out to be a good trick, as the group played a fantastic concert for the Korean audience. Metheny and Mays obviously are highly attuned to each other, and their solos are consistently creative. DVD watchers may actually be more aware of the textures created by the percussionists, with drummer Antonio Sanchez, a particular revelation. Trumpeter Cuong Vu has been steadily building a reputation as an exiting improviser experimenting with electronic effects. In this concert it seems Vu seems to use even more distorting effects than on the CD. For both CD and DVD, what makes the ensemble sound truly distinct, is the addition of Gregoire Maret’s harmonica. Everyone blends perfectly, creating exceptional music.

In the same bonus interview, Metheny talks about how changing perceptions of time informed the composing of The Way Up explaining:

“I also see some movies now . . . I mean, there’s a whole new kind of way of just spreading out the details with movies like Amores Perros or Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. I mean, there’s this whole sense of time being thought of in a kind of different way. And I think as we were writing the piece we were thinking of that.”

The Way Up Live is a well produced concert film. It is nicely lit, sometimes to dramatic effect, but never cheesy. The DVD titles make good use of the pole motif from the CD art. Most importantly, it shows the Pat Metheny Group in top form, performing and improvising on a challenging and rewarding extended composition. It is well worth purchasing from a music/DVD retailer that is still open for business.