From the opening sounds of traffic in Manhattan to the ascending coda, the Pat Metheny Group's The Way Up is a penetrating 68-minute statement about the search for meaning.
Pat Metheny has been a clear voice in jazz since the release of his classic treatise, Bright Size Life, produced when he was 22 years old. The spoken word of a young man in love with his life, it promised of yet untold eloquence. His brilliance has not remained unplumbed; such standards as As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, Secret Story and Beyond the Missouri Sky continue to awaken new fans to the genre.
The Way Up is the heir to Bright Size Life, no less optimistic or full of genius than its progenitor. Written as one continuous piece of music with longtime collaborator keyboardist Lyle Mays, this intense jazz manifesto demonstrates a discernment that is obscured to the young by their very nature. Crossbred motifs run through the work, each building on the last, the resulting sound orchestral. But it is neither pretentious nor condescending, the listener is asked to meet them on equal footing. An evocative statement that looks chaos and ennui in the eye with creativity and hope, these are the voices of artists with a vision.
The Way Up begins with an overture of the impending journey that the listener will recognize as belonging to everyone. Three parts building from a single line to many evolve to four recurring themes, each musician with a contrasting voice. There are crowds shouting their way, the hum and click of relentless engines, the eerie whine of twisting metal. Moments of solitary reflection appear, only to spiral to a thousand counterpoints; nothing of human making is left unexamined. A conversation is then shaped from the fray between a delicate feminine voice in acoustic guitar and a warm, electric masculine reply, revealing intimacy amidst the turmoil of postmodern life.
Metheny's collaborators meet his conviction with their own; maturing and evolving, all deserve special mention. A new addition to the band, Gregoire Maret on harmonica, is an angel's whisper in your ear. Longtime member Steve Rodby emerges from subtle backline to the sound of everyman and woman's occasionally dark inner landscape. The only vocals appear at the conclusion of the piece, joining the diverging lines. But it is not finished, and herein lies their vision. Metheny's guitar and Mays' synchronized piano lines, immutable, the foundation of all the rest alight, heard only when all else is silent.
This is truly a symphony for all of us, deeply reflective of the cultural milieu, yet demanding an awareness that is rarely expected. The life that recognizes nothing about the essential is condemned to eat itself alive, the dragon swallowing its own tail. But it is in our very humanness that lays our hope. The Pat Metheny Group elaborates this masterfully; it is the intuitive leap to the unknown, the quantum jump to a new level, wherein lies our understanding of the way up.
Track Listing: Opening, Part One, Part Two, Part Three.
Personnel: Pat Metheny: acoustic, electric, synth and slide guitars; Lyle Mays: acoustic piano, keyboards; Steve
Rodby: acoustic and electric bass, cello; Cuong Vu: trumpet, voice; Gregoire Maret: harmonica;
Antonio Sanchez: drums; Richard Bona: percussion, voice; David Samuels: percussion.
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