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Pat Metheny Group: Imaginary Day Live

John Kelman By

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Pat Metheny Group
Imaginary Day: Live
Eagle Eye Media
2001 (reissued 2008) Some artists are revolutionary, others are evolutionary. Some manage to be both, and guitarist Pat Metheny is one of a small group of artists who, always moving forward, occasionally make more striking stylistic leaps. With a string of consistently strong albums that began with Pat Metheny Group (ECM, 1978), Metheny's flagship group has evolved, sometimes in baby steps, other times in larger increments, culminating with the groove-happy We Live Here (1994, reissued Nonesuch, 2006) and stripped down and loosely improvisational Quartet (1996, reissued Nonesuch, 2006). Metheny continues to pursue other interests outside the purview of the group, but invariably brings experiences gained from those other projects back to the group in some form.

We Live Here and Quartet were fine albums, but in no way prepared anyone for what was to follow. From the opening crashes of the title track to Imaginary Day (Warner Bros., 1997), it was clear that Metheny and his longtime compositional partner/keyboardist Lyle Mays had made a major move forward. Accessible as ever, Metheny's arsenal of guitars, including the mind-boggling 42-string Pikasso guitar, his usual array of electric and acoustic guitars, guitar synth and, in particular, the fretless nylon classical guitar of the title track, created the broadest palette the guitarist had used on any single album to date. The more aggressive stance of bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Paul Wertico (who would leave after this album and tour), and the album's more expansive stylistic diversity signaled the beginning of a paradigm shift that would ultimately lead to The Way Up (Nonesuch, 2005), perhaps the group's most magnificent album to date.

As is often the case, material labored on for months in the studio took on a whole other dimension in performance. Metheny Group's Imaginary Day tour, hitting locations around the globe between 1997 and 1998, not only took tracks like the episodic "Imaginary Day," rock steady "Follow Me" and techno metal edge of "The Roots of Coincidence" (the latter featuring Lyle Mays pounding on an electric guitar with rock-like abandon) to greater evocative heights, but delivered the poignant "Across the Sky," complex world beat-informed "The Heat of the Day" and gently grooving "A Story Within the Story" with the kind of subtlety and nuance rare to experience in shows that were the jazz equivalent of rock spectacle.\

Pat Metheny Group shows have, over the years, become more and more orchestrated, largely removing the element of risk that, for many jazz fans, defines the idiom. Still, there's always space for solos and interaction, even if the overall roadmap of the shows has to be planned and executed with military precision, in order (amongst other things) to ensure that Metheny's longtime guitar tech, Carolyn Chrzan, gets the right instrument in his hands at the right moment.

Imaginary Day Live, first released in 2001 but reissued by Eagle Rock in 2008, captures Pat Metheny Group performing nearly all of Imaginary Day, along with a couple of unexpected older tunes—a lyrical solo version of "Message to a Friend," with Metheny on classical guitar and segueing beautifully into the rarely performed gem, "September Fifteenth," from Metheny and Mays' duet record, As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls (ECM, 1981), and a fiery version of the group's perennial closer up to that time, "Minuano (Six Eight)," from Still Life (Talking) (1987, reissued Nonesuch 2006).

There are only two criticisms with the DVD. First, at a little over ninety minutes, the DVD doesn't represent anywhere close to an entire concert. Metheny has always given his fans value for money, with shows that usually exceed two-and-a-half hours, and it would have been nice for those who were unable to catch the tour to see an entire show on DVD. Despite Metheny releasing live video documents of every Metheny Group tour since Letter from Home (1989, reissued Nonesuch 2006), the closest thing to a complete performance is Speaking of Now Live (Eagle Vision, 2003), and even that isn't a full show. Still, the primary emphasis here is on Imaginary Day and, collected with other Pat Metheny Group DVD releases, it's possible to get a close approximation of what it's like to see and hear the group in performance.

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