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DVD/Video/Film Reviews

Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up - Live

By Published: October 20, 2006
Sanchez is almost a force of nature, but hearing him with Metheny on a variety of projects—and with other artists—it'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 CD—creating a veritable guitar orchestra—it'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 Up—Live 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 Up—Live 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 Up—Live 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.

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