Metheny-Mehldau: Playing (Mostly) Together in Boston
“ There is an uncannily complementary partnership at work here, particularly when Metheny and Mehdlau play as a duo. ”
The Opera House
April 14, 2007
More than one attendee might've been ambivalent while seeing Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau perform at The Opera House in Boston April 14th. Two hours of impeccable musicianship rendered with formidable technique nevertheless contained the same relative strengths and weaknesses exhibited in the pair of Metheny-Mehldau CDs released on Nonesuch over the past few months.
No question there is an uncommon camaraderie at work between Metheny and Mehldau. This uncanny dynamic couldn't have been more palpable in the opening numbers on which just the pianist and the guitarist, on acoustic instruments, demonstrated how closely they complement each other. Mehldau's fluid, broodingly introspective passion on his instrument is the perfect foil to the lighter, finely-etched tones of Metheny as he plays...and vice versa. The Missouri-born guitarist evinced a definitely more casual air than usual, perhaps because intuitively he knew he didn't have to shoulder the whole load: his keyboard collaborator has all the chops he does, if not more.
The appearance of the rhythm section and the addition of an electric guitar signaled a distinct change in the air of the concert. Pat Metheny may always command attention given his stature and his accomplishments (not to mention the fascination with guitarists in our culture), but as he took his place literally at center stage in Boston, the tone of the show changed to become all too similar to a concert by a Pat Metheny Group (as is also true of Metheny-Mehldau's second CD Quartet).
To his great credit, Brad Mehldau seemed willing to defer to his counterpart. It was a distinct pleasure indeed to hear the talented pianist, with most of his customary attention to detail, even when playing behind Metheny: comping usually isn't so fascinating to follow. But there was a point in the latter third of this single extended set when the bombastic sounds of a guitar synthesizer overwhelmed the understatment (and propensity to underplay) that was otherwise the keynote of the evening. At this juncture, Mehldau's body language altered discernibly, as he became rigid on his seat, elbows close to his body.
This visual transformation was in marked contrast to most of the performance, particularly the early segments, when he was almost dancing on his stool, body swaying and his arms at full wingspan as he let his hands dance across the ivories. But when Metheny used his instrument to produce sounds furthering the ghostly atmosphere of the music in play, the effect, while not exactly grandstanding any more than the presentation of the forty-two string Picasso guitar of Metheny's, still served to distract from the music and focus inordinately on the guitarist.
Which is not necessarily that negative a prospect given how emotionally Pat Metheny played this Saturday night. His speed matches his grace, and his intricate knowledge of composition aids immeasurably in the way he solos. Playing with ever more feeling as the night progressed, he continues to amaze at the delicate detail he can create while bending knees deep to reach the note he's aiming for. Metheny did everything he should to substantiate his reputation in one of his self-avowed special cities to visit.
Yet when, in an aside, he mentioned the great opportunity to play with Brad Mehldau's trio, the audience, even with their devotion to the guitarist, could understand if perhaps not totally appreciate the compliment. In purely objective terms, drummer Jeff Ballard may have made the most striking impression of the four men onstage: his solo near the end of the show was as articulate a statement as a musician could make in front of an audience. And while bassist Larry Grenadier, who has worked with Metheny in the past, did not distinguish himself with his first extended solo, a briefer featured spot near concert's end commanded attention and deserved it.
Unless you're a Pat Metheny fan (as in the root sense of the word: "fanatic"), you might've left the beautifully formal venue with the impression that, rather than go see Metheny-Mehldau & Co. again, you'd opt to hear the pianist's trio on their own.
Pat Metheny: guitar; Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.