Pat Metheny Group in Potsdam, NY
Senior Editor since 2004With the realization that there will always be more music coming at him than he can keep up with, John wonders why anyone would think that jazz is dead or dying.
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“ [It was] an evening that combined the complex with the straightforward; the abstruse with the lyrical; and the faithfully reproduced with the more broadly reworked. ”
Pat Metheny Group The Way Up Tour
Maxcy Hall, SUNY
Potsdam, New York,
February 14, 2005
Pat Metheny Group shows have, over the years, evolved into more than mere musical performance; they are events , with the production values of a rock and roll show including a technological stage set-up second to none in the jazz world (and many in the rock world, for that matter) and, with well-conceived lighting and a large rear projection screen, a multimedia affair to boot. This fits well with the fact that, while improvisation is a key component of any Metheny Group performance, the music of guitarist Pat Metheny and keyboardist Lyle Mays is less about falling into neat stylistic boxes like jazz, and more about music as a larger beast that defies easy categorization.
No more evident is this than on their latest release, The Way Up , a 68-minute continuous piece that challenges the sound-bite philosophy that is so prevalent in not just music, but all art forms these days. Filled with complex arrangement, a host of memorable themes that are at some times so subtle they almost go by unheeded, and at other times dramatically but never melodramatically stated, and solo spots for a group that was originally based around the improvisation skills of Metheny and Mays but has now grown to include equally vital contributions from trumpeter/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Cuong Vu, chromatic harmonica player/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Gregoire Maret and drummer Antonio Sanchez, The Way Up is unquestionably the most ambitious work the group has ever attempted. While some may bemoan the fact that Mays appears to be getting less solo space these days, it's only because the group, for the first time in its existence, has other soloists, besides Metheny and Mays, deserving of equal exposure. Past members, including Pedro Aznar, David Blamires and the late Mark Ledford, have all been key players in the incarnations of which they were members, but they were more about orchestration than strong solo voices. Now Pat Metheny Group is a strong mini-orchestra that also features a broad range of compelling soloists.
The Potsdam State University of New York (SUNY) performance on February 14, 2005 was one of a handful of warm-up shows, taking place before the group's official tour commences on February 17, as part of the University's Community Performance Series (CPS). Taking place in the gymnasium space of Maxcy Hall might, for some groups, be a challenge after all, a gymnasium is hardly acoustically built for music but given that the Metheny Group travels with their own PA, a crew of sound and light people, and guitar and keyboard techs, the sound, after a few adjustments in the first 15 minutes or so of the performance, was surprisingly good.
The two-and-a-half hour show began with the minimalist, Steve Reichian introduction to The Way Up being broadcast over the PA system. Metheny appeared on stage alone with his baritone guitar, and proceeded to layer a solo version of "This is Not America" over it. The rest of the band Mays, bassist Steve Rodby, Maret, Vu, Sanchez and guitarist/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Nando Lauria, who is a member of the touring group but not the recording group this time around came to the stage through the audience, playing a variety of toy instruments. Once onstage the group dove into The Way Up in its entirety, stretching it out to over 80 minutes, including more extended solos and some additional composed segments not found on the album. While the contributions of Vu and Maret on the album might seem somewhat secondary to the layers of guitars and keyboards courtesy of Metheny and Mays, live it's a different story. Watching how seamlessly their main instruments are integrated into the larger orchestral texture of the group gives a whole new appreciation for their talents. And in order to reproduce at least as accurately as is possible the myriad layers of guitars Vu and Maret, along with Lauria, were often seen to be adding guitar parts to the mix. Sanchez even strapped on an electric bass at one point near the end of the piece, alternating between simple bass line and cymbal rolls. Rodby, during what is nominally called "Part Two'? on the CD, spent much of the time alternating between playing a fretless electric bass and slinging it behind his back while he returned to double-bass.