Pat Metheny / Brad Mehldau: Quartet (2007)
CD/DVD Reviewer since 2003DC writes regularly about rock and roll, jazz and the blues, composing reviews of CD's, DVD's, live performances, books and films, as well as conducting interviews.
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The second installment of the Pat Metheny/Brad Mehldau collaboration illustrates how the most accomplished and established musicians endure growing pains as they learn to work together. Even a partnership as complementary as this one benefits from a guiding hand or, alternately, suffers for lack of one.
Make no mistake, the presence of Larry Grenadier's bass and Jeff Ballard's drums add depth to this music and preclude any chance of it becoming lightweight . There is far too much detail on "Silent Movie, for instance, to allow it to become mere background music. Recorded by Metheny's expert technical crew, the sonic quality throughout the eleven tracks is unsurpassable, but that may beg the question of whether this is actually a 50/50 partnership with Mehldau.
Certainly the pianist acquits himself beautifully as both a musician and composer here. His "Secret Beach is alternately a languid and balmy piece, but the author himself imbues it with his characteristic introspective quality. He and Metheny may sometimes telegraph the shifts in their improvisations, as on the co-written "A Night Away, but more often the two move imperceptibly into a new key and a different tempo, delivering a sense of delightful surprise that is at the heart of jazz.
That's also a virtue of each of these men individually which is why, as the proverbial marriage made in musical heaven, the uncanny means by which they found common ground as on their first album was so satisfying. Yet the refreshing simplicity of the duets here, in the form of "The Sound of Water and "Long Before only make the presence of guitar synthesizer on "Towards the Light' sound intrusive and out of place.
It wouldn't take a close listen to hear the tempestuous passion of Brad Mehldau here, but as on the aforementioned "Secret Beach, the superficial resemblance to the recognizable Pat Metheny Group sound is all too obvious: that pair of tracks doesn't exactly suffer by comparison with a tune such as "Marta's Theme,' but they are not nearly so engrossing. Metheny and Mehldau might've been more successful had they relegated all the duets to one album and all the quartet cuts to its successor. Context isn't everything, but when sequencing a CD that factor counts heavily toward the disc's ultimate success as a seamless piece of work and a thoroughly inviting listening session.
Quartet, with its strengths and relative weaknesses, demonstrates how even the most stellar of musicians benefit from an objective ear outside their own. Perhaps if a producer other than Pat Metheny had served in that role, he and Brad Mehldau would've even more fully demonstrated their considerable talents as impressive improvisers, composers of note and experienced recording artists and, above all, a mutually inspiring duo with plentiful room for growth.
Track Listing: Night Away; Sound of Water; Fear and Trembling; So Much Music Everywhere; Towards the Light; Long Before; La Tierra Que No Olvida; Santa Cruz Slacker; Secret Beach; Silent Movie; Marta's Theme (from Passagio per il Paradiso).
Personnel: Pat Metheny: guitar, 42-string guitar (2), acoustic guitar (4), guitar synth (5, 9); Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.