One sure sign of musicianship is adaptability. And it is precisely because Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau possess this very quality that Quartet is so captivating. I find it hard to imagine how a pair of musicians could deliver such a subtly different mood in their second release than in their first. But the guitarist and pianist have come through with an album that remains deeply committed to melody and harmony, while concomitantly preserving the right to deviate from those very bounds.
The record undoubtedly accomplishes a great deal on the whole, but one runs the danger of getting swept away by the tracks which, if given a background listen, tend to bleed into each other. With the right care and effort in listening, however, each tune has a great deal to say on its own merit.
"A Night Away is a well-positioned choice for a debut track. It recreatesalmost to a Tthe excitement of hearing Mehldau and Metheny conjoin for the first time, which was what made their first collaboration magical. By "Fear and Trembling perhaps a nod to the father of Existentialismhowever, one finds oneself, like Hansel and Gretel, a bit unsure of this new forest into which one has stumbled.
Thankfully, Mehldau, Metheny, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard are no pernicious anthropophagists of the musical realm; just as quickly as they leave their path, they reveal a knack for trailblazing that brings back that sense of right place, for which both Metheny and Mehldau ought to take much pride.
The album, almost the inverse of their first release, consists of eleven tracks, seven of which feature the full quartet. "Don't Wait is a lovely depiction of the pair's predilection for motivic elaboration. Mehldau begins a simple melody in the first few bars of his solo that carry through the rest of his improvisation and even to his accompaniment until the end of the tune. "En La Tierra Que No Olvida has the feeling of a sophisticated revisit to "Bright Size Life, off of Metheny's monumental first release with Bob Moses and Jaco Pastorius.
Although Larry Grenadier may not innovate in the Pastorian realm, his solid bass framework manages to stand out without being glaring. Ballard, whose complexity tempts you to enter and then tosses you about, proves yet again why he is one of the most sought-after percussionists in the idiom.
Perhaps the most pleasant surprise of this release is that it doesn't feel like a Pat Metheny Group record; it organically exudes collaboration and complementation. Mehldau counterbalances Metheny's hypertonality with well-delivered yet brief forays outside the harmonic structure of the chord changes. But his playing is by no means wild. In fact, he affords himself the ticket to these forays by artistically crafting melodic ideas that leave him something he can return to. Metheny's playing has a looseness and comfort that was missing on Metheny Mehldau. There is less noticeable allegiance to tried-and-true licks and more authentic extemporaneous musical thought.
Metheny Mehldau was undoubtedly a novel record, but it seemed to be drowning in its own depth. Quartet has cast aside all of the jitters and expectations that come with a new collaboration and is so much the better for it.
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.
Pat Metheny: guitars; Brad Mehldau: piano; Larry Grenadier: bass; Jeff Ballard: drums.
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