The Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up-Live

Doug Collette By

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On 'The Way Up--Live' PMG's collective and individual panache is all too apparent as they navigate each successive part of this extended composition.
The Pat Metheny Group
The Way Up Live
Eagle Eye Media

If you were fortunate enough to see The Pat Metheny Group perform The Way Up in concert, watching this DVD will reaffirm your impression of the care and expertise that went into the stage presentation of this ambitious extended composition.

In fact, as the video unfolds, you'd almost think the multi-part piece was designed with live performance recording in mind all along. Panoramic shots of the band on stage reveal an almost perfect symmetry in the stage alignment. Quick cuts from shots of one band member to another are used judiciously enough to accentuate the intricacy of the music and the group's individual and collective playing. Overhead perspectives of keyboardist Lyle Mays, in particular, go a long way toward mirroring the complexity of the music.

Yet it's both fascinating and edifying to watch the band performance, taken from a multi-night run in Korea, particularly after you listen to the "interview" with Pat Metheny also included on the disc. Oddly staged in black and white, with the guitarist/composer bandleader looking more than a bit disheveled, this segment is more of a monologue than a conversation yet nonetheless reveals worthwhile insights into the creation and production of The Way Up.

Recounting the days and weeks of actual work to write the piece with Mays, Metheny is affable and humble, to be sure, but speaks with the authority of experience and the confidence that come from years of practice, not to mention world-wide success. The Missouri-born musician speaks knowledgably about jazz as a vibrant cultural entity with a future as enticing as its history is educational. Metheny's not far off the mark (if at all) in explaining how the political and social conscience at work in the international jazz community affects those members who are native to the United States.

When specifically discussing his own group, Metheny makes no bones about the multi-faceted and formidable talent at work with the current lineup. Perhaps most thought-provoking, however, is his comment about the core of the Pat Metheny Group as a quartet (as it was originally formatted and described when it began in 1977). Especially striking, just moments into this rendition of The Way Up (which comprised just the first half of PMG shows on this tour), is how readily identifiable the sound of the material is—similar in its breezy flourishes to a composition like "Phase Dance from the eponymous debut album, as well as to the more ruminative compositions from Metheny's second solo album Watercolors. Also immediately apparent is the attention to the subtlety of detail the music contains.

The method by which the arrangement features various band members all playing multiple instruments grows directly out of, as Metheny states during the interview, the concept of the piece as something of an antidote to the sense of modern times as a "hurry up and wait," or instant gratification, whirlwind. Accordingly, The Way Up states and restates its themes (similar to Metheny's description of contemporary cinema). The leader, himself, moves from electric to acoustic guitars, then on to guitar synthesizer, while all other members of the group play multiple instruments; for example, Gregoire Maret at one point has his harmonica holder round his neck, an electric guitar over his shoulder, all the while playing percussion.

The Pat Metheny Group might have struck some observers as a bit too careful in their first few live presentations of this long-form piece early on in their world tour. But on The Way Up -Live, their collective and individual panache is all too apparent in the fluid means by which they navigate each successive part as it gives way to the next. If the filming of the show doesn't allow for much of a view of the audience in the venue, neither does this DVD package include any travelogue footage of the country in which it was filmed (perhaps as a way of bringing greater attention to Metheny's verbal comments about the band's long absence from Korea). Nor are there any scenes of PMG as the tightly-knit road warriors their leader fondly describes them as during the interview.

Also strange is the package's not being released by the band's own record label, but these are minor, fleeting considerations, passing away in nano-seconds during the actual experience of watching and hearing the majestic music at the heart of this stirring work. In listening to Pat Metheny describe the evolution of his group's music over the years, the viewer cannot fail but be impressed by his review of the technological advances that fostered a transformation of the relatively simple early work to its present complexity.


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