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Weighing in on The Way Up concept

Pat Metheny Group
Chicago Theatre
Chicago, IL
February 20, 2005
Pat Metheny Pat Metheny

Story and Photos By Andy Argyrakis

Jazz may be the most common category the Pat Metheny Group's been placed in over the last three decades, but a mere browsing over one of its many works and that label is not always the most accurate. Sure, the material may be instrumentally based and sway towards the contemporary side of that genre, but there's always been an unconventional blend of pop, rock, soul, blues and funk- a feat that demonstrates each player's versatility while consistently confusing critics all across the globe. To further back up this style-hopping notion, Metheny and company can boast sixteen Grammy Awards since 1977, nine of which have been in separate categories (breaking the record for multi-format wins).
Pat Metheny Group As with an album in the troupe's vast catalogue, a relatively lengthy incubation period is needed, followed by some serious preparation in order to launch a tour. The latest batch of material The Way Up has been brewing since 2003 and found its way to the brand new label home Nonesuch (also territory shared with Wilco and Youssou N'Dour). But unlike any record throughout its tenure, the work is one continuous opus broken up into four decidedly distinct parts with varying degrees of wordless tension, mounting pressure points and periods of restful release. The project runs 68:10 to be exact taking a series of twists and turns, which at its height coasts on unpredictable improvisation, and at its lowest, is merely elevator worthy background music.
Close followers of the organization had the chance to judge for themselves as the new tour's bulk revolves around this album in its entirety. The moderately filled Chicago Theatre crowd was met with the explosive sounds of the ambiguous titled "Opening," the first of four selections pretentiously titled as vaguely with mere number identification. Despite the unadventurous misnomer, the suite stretched a little over five minutes to incorporate a trippy be-bop backdrop, characterized by Methany's signature riffs, the support of longstanding pianist Lyle Mays and bassist Steve Rodby, plus the 2002 additions of Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez and Vietnamese born/Seattle bred trumpet player/vocalist Cuong Vu. Also along for the ride was Swiss/American harmonica virtuoso Gregoire Maret, whose role was limited in the somewhat brief beginning, but would later be utilized in a series of complicated solos.
Pat Metheny Group "Part One" was much more expansive in its meanderings, lasting well beyond the twenty minute mark and crossing numerous territories in the meantime. However, in contrast to the robust introduction, this segment started in the slow tempo, snore worthy route. The vibe steered away from PMG's experimental base, appearing almost new agey for the first several minutes before picking up the pace with more lively splashes of guitar strums and free form playing (akin to what could be found of more recent Medeski, Martin and Wood offerings). Vu's trumpet puffs provided additional revitalization throughout the second half up though the jammy closing moments before returning to the same supper club level sogginess of "Part Two."
That selection launched with a minute's worth of tedious piano tinkling before expounding with the low bred bass wallops and brisk cymbal crashes that continued to mount with intensity. Somewhere around the ten-minute mark, the anticipation reached a fever's pitch and PMG was able to keep the crowd in wonder throughout the piece's duration, which again lasted past the twenty-minute mark. But then right as the composition reached its climatic conclusion, "Part Three" dropped the energy level down several notches in comparison and seemed loungy and languid. Luckily, the rebound came once again via a keyboard/brass duel, which was eventually resolved with Metheny's characteristic finger picking. The fifteen minute expression simmered back down again for a reflective conclusion, returning to the discharge mechanism first alluded to in "Opening" and earning an abounding applause in the process.
Though Metheny joked that would be it for the night, the Group transitioned into several signature selections from its past to provide a bit more of what some probably paid to see. Still, even with that period of flashbacks, the evening's real assessment must lie in the execution of The Way Up, which skeptics have deemed as ostentatious and lovers labeled as ambitious. The objective answer after seeing the concert is a straight split down the middle, landing at times like pompous racket (or nap time depending on the movement) and painstakingly detailed, reiterating the precise talent possessed by every individual within Metheny's operation.

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