Pat Metheny Group Imaginary Day: Live Eagle Eye Media
A composite of three nights of performances from 1998, Imaginary Day Live reaffirms the ambition and skill of Pat Metheny, his long-time collaborator Lyle Mays and the varied talents of the Group of the time (including the cinematic skill of bassist Steve Rodby).
As with the similarly conceived and executed DVD of The Way Up, the technical expertise of the audio-visual team is extremely impressive. That's understandable given the listing in the credits of David Oakes and Rob Eaton, names that should be familiar to anyone who's followed Pat Metheny and looked closely at his CDs and DVDs over the years: his crew is as reliable as they are gifted with the tools themselves, not surprisingly possessing more than a smattering of creative inclinations after working with a gifted musician for such an extended period of time. Yet the skill with which the technology is put to use, whether it's the instruments themselves or the audio/video recording equipment, would not mean much as an end in itself.
There couldn't be a much better setting for Imaginary Day Live than a balmy July day in the picturesque wine country of California, so it seems perfectly appropriate to segue from the intro depicting equipment setup to the placing of the "pikasso" guitar and Pat Metheny's entrance on to the stage. The exotic sounds of the forty-two-string instrument are accentuated by the percussion work of the rest of the group as they enter during the last few moments of "Into the Dream."
Visual effects come and go unobtrusively and almost undetectably in the video, much like the sound of synthesizer guitar that is used so effectively on "Follow Me." Its piercing tone contrasts with the airy vocals of Mark Ledford and Philip Hamilton, not to mention the purity of Lyle Mays' acoustic piano. Similarly, the artificiality of the keyboardist's electric instruments offsets the warmth and liquid nature of Metheny's hollow body guitar on "Story Within a Story." Here the trumpet of Ledford brings a more traditional jazz element into the mix, if only fleetingly.
As throughout this concert footage, sepia-toned shots of the hornman interludes enhance the flow of the music. During the title song, such transitions are perfectly timed to the band's actions; no doubt that's the main advantage of having bassist Rodby, at this point with Metheny for over fifteen years, as director and editor of a film capturing what, in 1998, was one of the Missouri native's most ambitious projects.
In hindsight, Imaginary Day Live thus serves as something of a template for PMG projects to come, and in more ways than one. The versatility of the expanded lineup of musicians, for instance, allows Metheny and Mays, as co-composers, to avoid merely repeating musical motifs in the hour-plus performance. Hamilton and Ledford play guitars, sing and play percussion (along with Jeff Haynes), giving the arrangements a density that serves to highlight the simple passages like Mays' piano solo on "Heat of the Day."
A markedly more intense interval follows, containing more synthesizer guitar, that conjures up dramatic moments, accentuated by theatrical lighting the likes of which is rarely used at jazz shows. Such stage production remains one of the few concessions Metheny makes to his audience' expectations, otherwise working so conscientiously to elevate their collective senses.
Accordingly, there's an almost indiscernible escalation of suspense as the septet moves from piece to piece, the tranquility of "Across the Sky" giving way to the expectant mood of "The Roots of Coincidence:" a bonafide rocker with perhaps no corollary in the Metheny discography, it features Mays on a second guitar as drummer Paul Wertico emphasizes a simple approach in his light insistent drumming. It's the ideal foundation for this particular tune, serving to curtail the bombast surrounding it.
"September Fifteenth" provides a comparatively subdued conclusion toward the end of the concert. Metheny and Mays are shrouded in shadows as if to suggest the ineffable bond that exists between them as creative partners. Metheny's use of acoustic guitar gives the listeners and viewers (those present or owners of the disc) a chance to reflect upon what they've just seen and heard before the Group moves into a celebratory gallop on "Minuano (Six Eight) ."