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DVD/Video/Film Reviews

Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up - Live

By Published: October 22, 2006

The piece has achieved greater depth and maturity since the release of the studio album.

Pat Metheny Group
The Way Up—Live
Eagle Eye Media
2006

The Pat Metheny Group expands on its masterpiece with this live performance. Throughout the group's 27 year existence, these musicians have consistently redefined what a contemporary jazz ensemble can be, and who they are as a band, each album containing something of immense value. This DVD captures the full-length version of Metheny's composition "The Way Up," as performed live in Korea. The piece has achieved greater depth and maturity since the release of the studio album in January 2005; in fact, the live performance makes clear just how melodic the piece is as a whole and how suited it is to improvisation. Another difference from the studio version that makes this DVD worthwhile is the greater fidelity with which the multiple orchestrations have been carried over in real time by trumpeter/vocalist Cuong Vu, harmonica ace Gregoire Maret and PMG alumnus (replacing Richard Bona) Nando Lauria on miscellaneous instruments.

Metheny notes in the informative interview (included as an extra) that when he and Lyle Mays first wrote The Way Up, they were not even sure how or if it could be performed in a concert setting. Blending together jazz and classical music along with influences from minimalist composer Steve Reich in the form of steady "pulses," the performance evidences the numerous factors that had to be considered. Among the difficulties Metheny Group encountered were questions of how to navigate guitar and synth orchestrations and seamlessly integrate the many sections. "Opening" alone demonstrates just how many of these factors come into play. The piece begins with band members playing various instruments, setting up the main eighth-note-based pulses played intermittently through the three movements to follow. Metheny moves quickly from his trademark hollow body Ibanez, to electric 12 string guitar, played with slide and ebow (a battery operated device that allows sustained pitches), to acoustic guitar and back.

Metheny's "Part One" solo on his Roland guitar synth utilizes thematic variations and interesting phrasing around the pulses coming from the keyboards of Lyle Mays and the dark colors of trumpeter Cuong Vu. Vu's playing here leads to an extended improvisation using loops and delays following the close of Pat's solo and restatement of the main "Part One" theme. Vu provides a plethora of tonal shades and extended techniques that along with Lyle Mays' orchestrations throughout the work provide a warm textural background. Metheny, Mays and Vu all stretch out nicely on a later theme exposition finding the guitarist soloing effortlessly on a fast bebop groove with nice changes, and Mays and Vu blowing on the same changes in 3/4 time. Incidentally, this section's mood recalls "5-5-7," which appeared on 1989's Letter From Home. Metheny also brings the main melody back on his final solo of "Part One" before drummer Antonio Sanchez takes an extended solo of his own with brilliant use of dynamics.

Steve Rodby's fretless bass lead that opens "Part 2" takes on a much more fluid quality than the studio version, echoing moments of PMG's past with Mark Egan while providing a glimpse into the future. The lead gently flows into the main melody largely at the core of the final movement, culminating in a solo spot for Lyle Mays. Again, just as Metheny's solo in "Part One" played around with the initial pulses, Mays also greatly expands on them. His solo alludes to dialects outside the jazz realm, bringing to mind impressionistic flavors and moods, such as those of 20th century Western classical music. The guitar pulses played by Metheny, Lauria and Vu gradually change from eighth to quarter and sixteenth note patterns. The effect is something like a faucet dripping. When Metheny returns on guitar synth and spars with Vu's trumpet, their ripping improvisation really brings out the harmonic implications of a dark and moody section first suggested by Mays, and then brought to a breaking point. The climax of this section shows something the Group has always been good at: going down to a whisper after spanning a wide dynamic spectrum.

Gregoire Maret states the "ballad" theme of The Way Up and spins a marvelous solo, much richer and more assured than the record. The section that follows, a hypnotic 9/8 groove, centers around Antonio Sanchez on percussion, and a repeated clipped phrase from Metheny and Mays. Vu and Maret engage in an extended dialogue while Steve Rodby creates on acoustic bass some harmonic motion not found on the studio rendition.

"Part Three," the finale, reintroduces the theme hinted at the beginning of "Part Two." Solos from Metheny and Mays frame a glorious vocal climax signaling a quiet return to the main theme from "Part One," bringing the piece to a satisfying closure. The camera work is excellent, one can see greatly detailed shots of Metheny's fretboard work, Mays digital dexterity, drummer Antonio Sanchez's precision chops, and the other band members' instrumental technique. This concert was shot in high definition with HD DVD and Blue Ray editions forthcoming. The sound, as expected with Metheny releases, is fantastic and offered in PCM stereo, surround sound and DTS.

In sum, this is a DVD easily recommended to PMG fans, and to anyone looking to see one of the best bands of our time perform an incredibly challenging piece at such a high level. Live, The Way Up adds considerable depth and enjoyment to a piece crafted by two of the most brilliant musicians alive. Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays have added to the legacy of long-form composition in jazz, placing their unique stamp on a wonderful tradition that includes Ellington, Mary Lou Williams, Trane, Gil Evans and Mingus, among others.


Tracks: Opening; Part One; Part Two; Part Three

Production Notes: Directed and edited by Steve Rodby. Running time 91 minutes. Special feature includes a 22-minute interview with Pat Metheny.



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