Pat Metheny / Brad Mehldau: Metheny Mehldau (2006)
The duo explores seven pieces by the guitarist and three by Mehldau; the pianist's regular trio partners, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, join them on two selections. The duo tracks evidence how much simpatico is shared between the pianist and guitarist. For example, Metheny handles the melancholy opener "Unrequited with an understanding of Mehldau's lean towards Western European-inspired harmony as if they have played for years. Likewise, Mehldau understands the purely melodic content of Metheny's writing, where his solos on the Latin inspired "Ahmid-6 and the pretty steel-string acoustic-led "Summer Day (which one hopes will become a Metheny standard) complement and enhance them greatly.
The two quartet tracks, however, are where the band's possibilities really shine. The exciting "Ring of Life (by Metheny) is one of the album's best tracks, marrying a knotty chord sequence with a crackling drum and bass groove from Ballard and Grenadier. Mehldau pulls out variations of the melody in his solo, while Metheny heightens the tension on his lone guitar synth solo of the disc. "Say the Brother's Name, originally recorded with John Scofield, receives a brighter treatment; Grenadier and Ballard superbly ride the eighth note-based bossa-like feel behind funky solo turns.
On the duo tracks that make up the remainder of the session, Mehldau acquits himself beautifully on Metheny's ballad "Find Me in Your Dreams, while they investigate Metheny-like melodic terrain on his own "Annie's Bittersweet Cake, which incidentally would not sound out of place on Pat Metheny Group (ECM, 1978). Metheny also contributes a hip nod to his friend, the late Jaco Pastorius, on "Bachelors III, incorporating a reference to "Three Views of a Secret. Finally, "Make Peace, a folksy meditation on baritone guitar, features a breathtaking Jarrett-esque solo from Mehldau.
This disc finds Metheny and Mehldau really listening and challenging each other, without losing the accessibility of their music. Guitar/piano duos can be tricky, but this one works with the orchestral tools each player brings to the table. According to Metheny, this is just the first installment; a second volume focusing mostly on the quartet material is due soon. As great as this disc is, another round would be most welcome.
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: Pat Metheny: acoustic and electric guitars, guitar synth; Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; (4,7) Jeff Ballard: drums (4,7).
Record Label: Nonesuch Records
Style: Modern Jazz