Pat Metheny / Brad Mehldau: Metheny Mehldau (2006)
What happens when two of the most distinct and polarizing musical voices of a generation meet to collaborate on a recording? One might assume there would be a litany of dissonance with patches of too-infrequent beauty, leaving the listener mulling over the potential of such a landmark collaboration. But with Metheny Mehldau, the aptly titled release by guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau, the opposite is in evidence. While showing unique styles on their respective instruments, it is quite clear that these two musicians understand each other.
The fruits of their labor show that indeed, this is a true collaboration. Both musicians check their respective egos at the door. Neither is overbearing, not only letting his counterpart develop fully his musical ideas, but also assisting him in reaching that task. While this is duo music, by some force of nature Metheny and Mehldau have managed to make it sound as if there is a full quartet on every tune (Jeff Ballard and Larry Grenadier, the other two thirds of Mehldau's working trio, join the pair on two tunes to fully realize a quartet). Very rarely, if ever, will you hear duos reach the kind of emotional climaxes that are present on many tracks of this album.
By my own admission, I am one of those who believe that Metheny is better appreciated in a stripped-down situation where he cannot avail himself of the vast array of guitars he puts to use with his own Pat Metheny Group. Here, for the most part, he achieves a Jim Hall-esque sound on his hollowbody instrument, using the guitar synth only sparingly. Mehldau is captured at his best, employing his trademark gentle, dexterous swing to perfection.
"Unrequited commences the proceedings with Mehldau playing a vamp similar to that which Keith Jarrett employs in the introduction to Changes. Metheny and Mehldau dance around each other with striking ease, alternating between rhythm and solos at the drop of a hat, until Metheny takes control with a longer solo leading to the final, alternate take on the melody. It is a beautiful introduction to what is to come.
"Ring of Life is perhaps the highlight of the album. As mentioned in an earlier review of this title, the quartet tracks give the best glimpse about the true potential of this collaboration. Here, Metheny plays a very homely melody over Ballard's fiery drums and Mehldau's liquid chords. After Metheny's hollowbody solo, the pianist proceeds to rip through as exciting a solo as you'll hear him play. Metheny then takes a solo on his synth before returning to the original melody.
The album is full of twists and turns, and the musicians never fall prey to the oft-encountered trap of a one-dimensional recording. Throughout, Metheny and Mehldau show not only their unparalleled command of their instruments, but also their immense compositional understanding. Metheny Mehldau is an album that bears repeated listening, and is recommended to any fan of jazz music at its best.
Track Listing: Unrequited; Ahmid-6; Summer Day; Ring of Life; Legend; Find Me in Your Dreams; Say the Brother's Name; Bachelors III; Annie's Bittersweet Cake; Make Peace.
Personnel: Brad Mehldau: piano; Pat Metheny: guitars; Larry Grenadier: bass (4,7); Jeff Ballard: drums (4,7).