Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up - Live
“ By the end of watching Pat Metheny Group perform what may turn out to be Metheny and Mays' magnum opus, there's absolutely no sense of needing to see more. ”
The Way UpLive
Eagle Eye Media
One of most exciting aspects of live performance is the opportunity to see how a group translates music from the studio to the concert stage. With production values that more closely resemble those of a marquee rock group, the nearly three-decade-old Pat Metheny Group has long been renowned for marathon sets that integrate vivid staging with electrifying sounds to make their shows an unforgettable experience. The group's 2005 tour, in support of its 68-minute epic, The Way Up (Nonesuch, 2005), was one its best tours yet, with a cross-section of material dating as far back as its eponymous 1978 ECM debut.
With the core triumvirate of guitarist Metheny, keyboardist Lyle Mays and bassist Steve Rodby augmented by newcomers drummer Antonio Sanchez, trumpeter/vocalist Cuong Vu, harmonica player Gregoire Maret and, for the tour, guitarist/vocalist/multi- instrumentalist Nando Lauria, the show also underwent significant growth and evolution, from its early warm-up performance in Potsdam, New York to the group's final date in front of over 100,000 people on the closing day of the 2005 Montreal Jazz Festival.
Which makes the long-awaited DVD release, The Way UpLive, all the more curious. While there has been either a videotape or DVD release to document every Pat Metheny Group tour since The Road to You (Geffen, 1993; reissued Nonesuch, 2006), none of them has included a complete performance. It's perhaps understandable that Metheny wants to focus attention on the group's latest material, but The Way Up tour was so exceptional it would have been nice, for once, to have an entire show captured.
Still, most die-hard Pat Metheny fans will have all the previous video releases and, consequently, a pretty strong representation of the group's history. And for those who didn't have the opportunity to see the group perform The Way Up, the single composition alone is a significant milestone in a career marked by multiple high points.
Rodby's first attempt at directing and editing, Imaginary Day Live (Pioneer, 2001), was marred by an excess of energy and, perhaps, ambition. There were so many stylistic shifts throughout the 93-minute performance that, as terrific as the performance was, it was often too busy to watch. With the group's last DVD, Speaking of Now Live (Eagle Eye Media, 2003) directed by an outside source, Rodby's return to directing/editing for The Way UpLive suggests that he's been doing a lot of homework since his first effort. It's filled with interesting camera angles, including an aerial view of Mays and his mammoth keyboard rig, and enough close-ups of everyone to keep aspiring musicians happy, although Rodby never rests on anyone long enough to give everything awaythere's still plenty of mystery, for example, about how Metheny does what he does. But unlike Imaginary Day Live, where Rodby used all kinds of post-production visual effects, the work here is cleaner, more natural. While no audience member could ever have access to all the angles Rodby does, The Way UpLive has more of a "being there" vibe to it and is all the more enjoyable for it.
It's long been an understanding among the inner circle that if you want to hear Metheny in a more loosely improvisational setting, go see him perform with one of his side projects like his various trios. Metheny Group shows are inherently structuredin no small part due to the more detailed compositions provided by Metheny and long-time compositional partner Mays. If anything, The Way Up ups the ante even further. While there were enough solo opportunities for Metheny, Mays, Maret, Vu and Sanchez to make every show distinctive, it was always within strict structural confines. There's no "taking an extra chorus" at Metheny Group shows but, then again, that's an expectation that's long since gone by the wayside. Instead a Metheny production is as much about the compositions and orchestration as it is muscular soloing.
That said, this is the strongest Metheny Group ever, in terms of solo potential. Both Vu and Maret are powerful voices on their instruments. Vu's use of electronics and extended techniques to expand the textural potential of his instrument are making him a remarkable new voice on the scenealso demonstrated by his own outstanding It's Mostly Residual (ArtistShare, 2005). Maret seems to be recording with everyone these days, and his lyrical solo spot here is another side to a player who's been associated with everyone from eight-string guitar whiz Charlie Hunter to bassist Meshell Ndegeocello. It's a shame that Lauria never received any real spotlight during the tour, as he's clearly a deserving player.
Sanchez is almost a force of nature, but hearing him with Metheny on a variety of projectsand with other artistsit's clear that there's more to him than the relatively busy player who is behind much of The Way Up. Rodby remains one of most underappreciated bassists in jazz. Because he rarely takes a solo, there are those who don't realize just how key he is to the Metheny Group sound. It's no surprise that he quickly became part of the group's inner sanctum after gaining admittance in the early 1980s.
Both Metheny and Mays, of course, have plenty of upfront time during the performance. But as significant as both are as soloists, with a Pat Metheny Group it's more about forging a group sound, a group identity. While technology has long been a part of the Group's language, it's so integrated that it feels organic.
With Metheny layering so many guitars on The Way Up CDcreating a veritable guitar orchestrait's amazing to hear just how much of it is reproduced live. This is due, in no small part, to Maret and Vu playing more than just their main instruments, something that's long been a signature of "peripheral" Metheny Group members. There are times, during the performance, when Vu, Maret and Lauria are all playing guitar along with Metheny. Rodby rapidly switches back and forth between his acoustic bass and an electric one slung behind his back, Metheny-style. Even Sanchez picks up an electric bass towards the end of "Part Three."
One of the most impressive rewards of attending one of The Way Up shows was always the virtual sleight-of-hand that Metheny managed to achieve with the number of guitars used for The Way Up. It seemed, at times, that if you took your eyes away from him for just a moment, the next time you looked back he'd either have a new guitar strapped on, or a stand-mounted instrument in front of him so that he could switch between it and his main axe. The incredible work of Metheny's long-time guitar tech, Carolyn Chrzan, was more evident than on any other tour. Initially seeing her getting guitars on and off stage for Metheny as a visually arresting, even integral part of the show, Rodby made a wise decision to omit that footage from this DVD. Despite her clearly key role, what was once revelatory for the viewer would have become a distraction afterwards.
The actual performance of the musical centerpiece, despite abbreviating the lengthy coda of "Part Three," is about the same length as the CD, so there are some extensions throughout. Still, The Way UpLive is more about how an extended piece of music that utilizes the potential of the studio can be transferred to live performance. All the parts aren't there, but you'd never know it unless you analyzed it in detail, an intellectual exercise that would be contrary to the sheer enjoyment of watching Pat Metheny Group in concert.
To flesh out the DVD, a 23-minute interview with Metheny sheds some light on what was involved in writing a complex piece like The Way Up and making it road-ready. As always, Metheny comes across as articulate and affable. Although undoubtedly a deep thinker, he's able to express his personal, complex musical language in terms that make sense to the broad audience he has built over the years.
The only thing that would have made The Way UpLive a perfect DVD would have been to include the entire concert. And maybe that's a groundless quibble. By the end of watching Pat Metheny Group perform what may turn out to be Metheny and Mays' magnum opus, there's absolutely no sense of needing to see more. And as illuminating as it is to watch the group wind their way through this complex and challenging piece, it's equally satisfying to see Rodby's skill as a video director/editor grow. It's what makes the difference between The Way UpLive being a good watch and a great one.
Tracks: The Way Up: Opening; Part One; Part Two; Part Three.
Personnel: Pat Metheny: guitars; Lyle Mays: piano, keyboards; Steve Rodby: acoustic and electric bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums, electric bass; Cuong Vu: trumpet, vocals, percussion, guitar; Gregoire Maret: harmonica, guitar, vocals, percussion, electric bass; Nando Lauria: guitar, vocals, miscellaneous percussion and instruments.
Program Notes: Directed and edited by Steve Rodby. Running time 91 minutes. Special feature includes an interview with Pat Metheny.