While I was weighing up this album a recent, very long, interview Rick Beato posted with Pat Metheny registered half a million views on Youtube in a week. It’s a reminder that the guitarist lives in a different world from pretty well every other currently working jazz musician.
That’s not just because he’s gigged tirelessly for almost five decades, though this new release is the occasion for his next 100-date tour. The breadth of his musical vision, his rare melodic gifts, and his stylistic range means his cumulative output has something for everyone.
The new live recording packs something for nearly everyone into a single set. It builds on his long experience of forming great bands: “Side Eye” is his name for a new project which will draw on a rotating cast of younger players. The first edition features wunderkind James Francies on keys of all kinds, and the longer established Marcus Gilmore on drums.
Add Metheny’s guitar synths and the vast sonic capacities of his elaborately constructed orchestrion and they deliver far more than a conventional trio on some tracks. The album begins and ends with two lengthy new compositions that feature the thickly textured soundscapes he has been building since the first electronic instruments were brought into the early Pat Metheny groups. This is heavily layered music, aspiring to create an immersive bath of sound, and I don’t always want to jump in. But the results are undeniably impressive, in a 21st century prog-rock kind of way. And amid the remarkably detailed, brilliantly executed deployment of all these sounds there are striking improvisations from Metheny and Francies that grab the attention.
The tracks in between throw more glances backward. Some look at old work: Bright Size Life, the title track of Metheny’s first album, gets the latest of many outings, with Francies providing basslines as well as higher register keys; Sirabhorn dates from the same era; and there’s a nod to Ornette Coleman, though on perhaps the least distinctive of all his tunes, Turnaround, which becomes a fairly ordinary trio blues, redeemed by a tremendous, cascading piano solo. It’s also notable for Gilmore’s drumming – remarkable, and remarkably varied throughout, but particularly aerated here where he comes closest to channeling his grandad, Roy Haynes.
More unexpected is exploiting Francies’ skills again to offer Timeline as a classic organ trio, harking back to simpler days when new, popular jazz meant hard bop and Blue Note. And Lodger adopts a steady rock beat, with Metheny’s guitar taking on a touch of the electric howl the instrument really wants to make. I fancy I glimpse the ghost of Leslie West nodding and smiling behind the solo here. The recording is completed with Better Days Ahead, one of those Metheny tunes that sounds like lots of other Metheny tunes, and Zenith Blues, which takes us back to orchestrion world.
A final verdict? If this was some up-and-coming player’s debut, the album would get the “some great moments, but the mix of styles suggests someone uncertain quite where their music is going to settle” comments. That clearly doesn’t apply here. Metheny says in the notes, “I always let the tune decide how it wants to get played”. The variety that engenders makes this, if not among his most satisfying individual recordings, one that will have the widest possible appeal.
1. It Starts When We Disappear (13:48)
2. Better Days Ahead (5:26)
3. Timeline (7:12)
4. Bright Size Life (5:34)
5. Lodger (6:17)
6. Sirabhorn (5:07)
7. Turnaround (7:43)
8. Zenith Blue (11:38)
Pat Metheny guitar
James Francies keyboards
Joe Dyson drums