At age 10, Pat Metheny was mesmerized like most of us by The Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Two years later, Wes Montgomery’s “Smokin’ at the Half Note” and Miles Davis’ “Four & More” — two of the greatest jazz albums ever — set the guitar artist on a very fruitful path.
Revolutionary compositional skills, exciting and inviting melodies, and bell-clear tones have been Metheny’s stock-in-trade ever since he emerged as the 20 year-old guitarist in vibraphonist Gary Burton’s group. What’s astounding is how far he’s taken it all, his vision of jazz music never ceasing to expand, or surprise.
Fans rightly consider Pat Metheny, 65, one-of-a-kind, and he certainly had them in mind when he made “From This Place,” his first album of new music in five years. Anything new by Pat Metheny tests the ears on some level. This time, the songs’ customary hairpin turns, and shadowy nuances that either slowly reveal or rush forth, are smooth-edged, resulting in an entirely mesmerizing 77-minute ride.
Sweeping, cinematic aspects of Metheny’s oeuvre instantly rise up in the opener, “America Undefined.” A spirit of disjointedness inhabits the tune, layered textures intertwining and dancing past one another as if people embracing, and not. Certainly it suggests the socio-political climes of today, and quite effectively. Although the album is billed to Metheny alone, clear senses of a Pat Metheny Group synopsis, and furtherance, are at play. Longtime colleague Antonio Sanchez on drums, pianist Gwilym Simcock, and bassist Linda May Han Oh toured the world with Metheny for two years, playing primarily the leader’s back catalog. So they know the ways, but are just as well full of transcendent creativity in their deliveries here.
The easygoing tempos, tones and overall mood of “Wide and Far” reflect that observation most evidently. Metheny also enlisted the Hollywood Studio Symphony to add bursts of color in several places, as if projecting a film that’s not there. “Same River” flows with the orchestration behind the beat, the melody a kind of subtle cocktail jazz, but with unparalleled twists.
In one dramatic passage, Metheny takes off on a synthesized solo, its cry very well imitating human emotion. For the gently probing title song, Metheny brought in singer Meshell Ndegeocello to convey equal measures of disappointment and hope. Ultimately, the absolutely thrilling guitar, bass, piano and drums that canter together, and rise alone brightly within the international samba groove of “Everything Explained,” explains everything about Pat Metheny, this group of players, and this album. Magnificent jazz, from elementary to progressive to activist, surges “From This Place.”
Postscript: Lyle Mays, the brilliant keyboardist and composer who co-founded the Pat Metheny Group in 1977, has died at the age of 66 following a prolonged illness. Mays played on, and co-wrote, much of the music on 16 Metheny albums, including every Pat Metheny Group release, as well as four of his own solo albums. He also lent his talents to a diverse selection of artists ranging from Joni Mitchell to Earth, Wind & Fire, and won 11 Grammy awards. He retired from music in 2010. He pursued a passion for architecture, and also worked as a computer software manager. Upon his passing, Metheny issued a statement that said, in part, “Lyle was one of the greatest musicians I’ve ever known.”
‘From This Place’
Release: Feb. 21