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Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up - Live

John Kelman By

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Pat Metheny Group
The Way Up—Live
Eagle Eye Media

One of most exciting aspects of live performance is the opportunity to see how a group translates music from the studio to the concert stage. With production values that more closely resemble those of a marquee rock group, the nearly three- decade-old Pat Metheny Group has long been renowned for marathon sets that integrate vivid staging with electrifying sounds to make their shows an unforgettable experience. The group's 2005 tour, in support of its 68-minute epic, The Way Up (Nonesuch, 2005), was one its best tours yet, with a cross-section of material dating as far back as its eponymous 1978 ECM debut.

With the core triumvirate of guitarist Metheny, keyboardist Lyle Mays and bassist Steve Rodby augmented by newcomers drummer Antonio Sanchez, trumpeter/vocalist Cuong Vu, harmonica player Gregoire Maret and, for the tour, guitarist/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Nando Lauria, the show also underwent significant growth and evolution, from its early warm-up performance in Potsdam, New York to the group's final date in front of over 100,000 people on the closing day of the 2005 Montreal Jazz Festival.

Which makes the long-awaited DVD release, The Way Up— Live, all the more curious. While there has been either a videotape or DVD release to document every Pat Metheny Group tour since The Road to You (Geffen, 1993; reissued Nonesuch, 2006), none of them has included a complete performance. It's perhaps understandable that Metheny wants to focus attention on the group's latest material, but The Way Up tour was so exceptional it would have been nice, for once, to have an entire show captured.

Still, most die-hard Pat Metheny fans will have all the previous video releases and, consequently, a pretty strong representation of the group's history. And for those who didn't have the opportunity to see the group perform The Way Up, the single composition alone is a significant milestone in a career marked by multiple high points.

Rodby's first attempt at directing and editing, Imaginary Day Live (Pioneer, 2001), was marred by an excess of energy and, perhaps, ambition. There were so many stylistic shifts throughout the 93-minute performance that, as terrific as the performance was, it was often too busy to watch. With the group's last DVD, Speaking of Now Live (Eagle Eye Media, 2003) directed by an outside source, Rodby's return to directing/editing for The Way Up—Live suggests that he's been doing a lot of homework since his first effort. It's filled with interesting camera angles, including an aerial view of Mays and his mammoth keyboard rig, and enough close-ups of everyone to keep aspiring musicians happy, although Rodby never rests on anyone long enough to give everything away—there's still plenty of mystery, for example, about how Metheny does what he does. But unlike Imaginary Day Live, where Rodby used all kinds of post-production visual effects, the work here is cleaner, more natural. While no audience member could ever have access to all the angles Rodby does, The Way Up—Live has more of a "being there" vibe to it and is all the more enjoyable for it.

It's long been an understanding among the inner circle that if you want to hear Metheny in a more loosely improvisational setting, go see him perform with one of his side projects like his various trios. Metheny Group shows are inherently structured— in no small part due to the more detailed compositions provided by Metheny and long- time compositional partner Mays. If anything, The Way Up ups the ante even further. While there were enough solo opportunities for Metheny, Mays, Maret, Vu and Sanchez to make every show distinctive, it was always within strict structural confines. There's no "taking an extra chorus" at Metheny Group shows but, then again, that's an expectation that's long since gone by the wayside. Instead a Metheny production is as much about the compositions and orchestration as it is muscular soloing.

That said, this is the strongest Metheny Group ever, in terms of solo potential. Both Vu and Maret are powerful voices on their instruments. Vu's use of electronics and extended techniques to expand the textural potential of his instrument are making him a remarkable new voice on the scene—also demonstrated by his own outstanding It's Mostly Residual (ArtistShare, 2005). Maret seems to be recording with everyone these days, and his lyrical solo spot here is another side to a player who's been associated with everyone from eight-string guitar whiz Charlie Hunter to bassist Meshell Ndegeocello. It's a shame that Lauria never received any real spotlight during the tour, as he's clearly a deserving player.


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