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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As for Metheny, one almost lost count of the number of guitars he used during the piece. Kudos to his long-standing guitar tech, Carolyn Chrzan, who made sure that every guitar was in place and in tune and Metheny uses a variety of non-standard tunings throughout The Way Up , so this is no mean feat. Aside from the staggering musical complexity and challenge of recreating The Way Up live, the sheer logistics become evident when watching the show, with the band sometimes performing an almost sleight of hand where one would be busy watching one side of the stage, only to return attention to Metheny and find yet another instrument there at his disposal. At one point Sanchez was playing a large shekere, only to literally toss it behind him so that he could return to the kit fortunately there was a tech waiting to catch it.
And, as usual, the back line in this case Maret, Vu and Lauria contributed everything from percussion to vibraphone, marimba and, in the case of Lauria, a second horn. What is always astounding about the players Metheny finds for his group is their ability to transform into strong multi-instrumentalists; and while none of these additional instruments are as strong as their main axes, they manage to be completely convincing. Special mention should also be made of Lauria who, while never getting a moment in the spotlight, is clearly a talented guitarist who had to learn some of Metheny's challenging parts and recreate them faithfully. While the role of musical chameleon is sometimes lost in the midst of all the strong voices present, Lauria's role was absolutely essential, and should not be underestimated.
The group also made some intelligent choices about performing The Way Up live, condensing the extended coda at the end of the piece, which would likely be swallowed up in any large concert hall. Still, the piece ended in a satisfying way, sticking to the almost circuitous ending of the recorded version and avoiding the temptation for a more definitive and bombastic conclusion.
The decision to begin the concert with an 80-minute epic was unquestionably a bold move; no chance for the group to warm up, as they so often would with pieces like "Have You Heard?" and "Phase Dance." So, after 80 minutes of continuous play, when Metheny finally stepped up to the microphone, one of his first comments, after introducing the band, was to say that, at this point, he almost felt like saying "Thank you, and good night." Fortunately for the nearly sold-out crowd, he had something else in mind.
The second half of the concert was an interesting blend of subsets of the group duos, trios, quartets culminating in full group performances for the end of the show. Starting the second half with "What Do You Want," an up-tempo duet between Metheny and Sanchez, both players had the opportunity to further demonstrate the astounding technique coupled with sheer musicality of the first half. Metheny has spoken, at great lengths, of his excitement playing with Sanchez. Much as the Metheny Group's first bassist, Mark Egan, was a fine player but it became clear, when he joined the group, that Rodby was simply the right player for Pat Metheny Group, Danny Gottlieb and Paul Wertico may have both made significant contributions to the band, but Sanchez is clearly the drummer Metheny has been looking for all these years, capable of everything from light textural playing to powerful polyrhythms. And as Rodby has become an essential part of the group's core over the past 23 years, one can only hope that as other players come and go, Sanchez stays for the long haul to become another core member.
Following the intense duet, Rodby fleshed things out to a trio for a very liberal reading of Offramp 's "James," where the chord changes revealed the tune long before Metheny actually got around to playing the familiar theme. More a solo vehicle than the structured format of the original piece, this felt more in line with some of Metheny's trio work with Larry Grenadier and Bill Stewart and, more recently Christian McBride and Sanchez.
Mays joined the group for "Lone Jack," from the group's self-titled first album . This time, however, instead of Metheny and Mays taking separate extended solos, they traded back and forth, building the tension and excitement and leading into a solo from Sanchez that, while staying true to the tune's form, combined unbelievable intensity with a distinctly melodic approach.
Metheny returned to his acoustic baritone guitar for a duet with Maret's chromatic harmonica on "Always and Forever," from Secret Story. Maret, even when soloing in the most tender of ways, seemed almost frenetic in his body movements.
Mays and Metheny then performed a duet version of "Farmer's Trust" still one of Metheny's most provocative ballads with Rodby joining in for the final theme.