In many ways Quartetthe second disc culled from the December, 2005 collaboration between iconic guitarist Pat Metheny and the younger but increasingly influential pianist Brad Mehldauis the record that Pat Metheny Group's final Geffen album, 1996's Quartet, should have been. While the Metheny Group record had its charms, it was the closest thing to a contractual obligation record that the guitarist has ever made, and the relatively sketchy nature of much the record makes for an uneven listen.
The more duet-centric Metheny Mehldau (Nonesuch, 2006) demonstrated a remarkably deep chemistry, especially considering this was a first encounter. But Metheny Mehldau's two quartet tracks with the pianist's regular crewbassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballardwere its clear highlights, as well as a promise of better things to come when it was announced that this second release would focus more on the quartet.
Seven of these eleven tracks feature the quartet, and the duets on Quartet work much better than those on Metheny Mehldau. They provide textural and emotional contrast to the more expansive quartet tracks in the same way that "Into the Dream" provided both a welcome relief from the powerful one-two punch of "Imaginary Day" and "Follow Me," and a thematic segue into the more relaxed "A Story Within a Story" on the Metheny Group's Imaginary Day (Warner Bros., 1997).
While the opening "A Night Away" is co-written by Metheny and Mehldau, its initial changes are so familiar that it could easily be found on a Metheny Group record. But like the best Metheny Group collaborations with keyboardist Lyle Mays, Mehldau's personality is equally prominent as the longer-form theme in this piece unfolds and the pianist builds a solo that's as lyrical as anything Mays has done, but goes to more unexpected harmonic territory.
What makes Quartet beg comparison to the Metheny Group's Quartet is its relatively minimal production. There are few, if any, overdubs to be found, and none of the more lavish orchestrations for which Mays is so renowned. Metheny brings out his horn-like guitar synth on only two trackshis atmospheric yet propulsive "Towards the Light" and Mehldau's Latin-esque "Secret Beach." The guitarist adopts a more aggressive and distorted tone on Mehldau's strangely sparse yet fiery "Fear and Trembling," but for the balance of the quartet tracks, his tone is clean and warm, most notably on his equally spare but considerably gentler "Silent Movie."
The sequencing of Quartet is a significant improvement over Metheny Mehldau; the four duet tracks (all written by Metheny) ranging from the ethereal ("The Sound of Water") to the poignant ("Don't Wait"). The duo's take on Metheny's understated "Marta's Theme (from Passagio per il Paradiso)" provides a wonderful coda to Quartet's resonant narrative. It may not be as texturally expansive as Metheny Group recordings, but in its sparer instrumentation, greater spontaneity and immediacy, it's certainly a thoroughly compelling alternative.
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).
Pat Metheny: electric guitar, 42-string Pikasso guitar (2), acoustic guitar (4), guitar synth (5,9); Brad Mehldau:
piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.
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