Titled with his customary forward-thinking optimism, The Way Up is Pat Metheny's first project for Nonesuch Records. For all its intricacy, this ambitious group endeavor, a single extended composition in four parts, brings to mind the earliest, and comparatively simpler, works of the guitarist composer when he first established a four-piece band under his own name back in 1978.
The lyricism that has drawn and retained listeners for close to thirty years appears in abundance here, but there's also plenty of space. Not just for reflectionon the part of those hearing it as well as the musicians playing itbut for the kind of challenging improvisation that makes the CD worth playing over and over. Especially at the outset of "Part # 2," in the transition from somewhat abrasive tones reminiscent of Metheny's use of synclavier on Offramp (ECM, 1981), the sweetly melancholy sounds of Gregoire Maret on harmonica simultaneously expand the band's sound and serve to retrench: keyboardist/composer Lyle Mays often used electric keyboards to generate similar sounds on PMG albums such as Travels (ECM, 1982). The contribution of another band member is not an insignificant development for Metheny's ongoing conception of his Group as a more democratic ensemble.
At this point in his career, Pat Metheny has developed an expansive palette of musical motifs that he can rightfully call his own. Accordingly, he can effectively pick and choose which elements to emphasize for any given project. The success of The Way Up is that the process of conception as well as execution sounds so natural, rather than contrived for effect. It becomes a winning exercise in moving music based on the interaction between some splendid musicians (though Mays takes more of a supporting role here than on past projects). It's important to note this CD-length composition, recorded in crystalline clarity as well as depth of sound (by engineer Rob Eaton, who's worked with Metheny for some time), is decidedly lacking in empty melodrama. By the time you've finished hearing it, having listened to liquid electric guitars, percussion and the gentle wafting of Cuong Vu's horn, you almost wonder where he time went.
Hard-core jazzers as well as younger alternative-minded fans might find Metheny's work such as this too pretty for its own good, or simply too sterile. Yet there's a certain spartan economy to this recording that derives from years of experience in many different realmsincluding a tenure in vibraphonist Gary Burton's group and work with famed bassist Jaco Pastoriusthat allows Metheny to recognize that which is essential in both his writing and his playing. Other projects, such as the more open-ended trio endeavors, may seem more interesting on the surface and in practice. But The Way Up is one of those recordings that, as evidence of continuing progression on the part of its leader, make you glad to be alive at the same time as a creative artist such as Pat Metheny.
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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