Wednesday, 30 May 2018
Pat Metheny Group - The Way Up (2005)
It was the start of 2005; many of us who'd been tirelessly defending Metheny/PMG against the "jazz muzak" putdowns had been getting slightly worried that Speaking Of Now had just been giving those naysayers more fuel. Then along comes a new album - a single, 68-minute piece of music composed around recurring themes but still leaving plenty of improvisational space, that stretched Pat & Lyle's writing skills and celebrated all that had made them great. It remains my post-ECM favourite by both bandleader and group.
Conceived by Metheny and Mays as a "protest song" against the dumbing-down of modern music (© every generation since music began), The Way Up was always intended to be a big statement, and a long one, but that doesn't make it inaccessible. One helpful concession was to divide the hour-plus work on CD into three sections, preceded by a five minute 'Opening', which does make the whole thing more manageable to digest (and to write about!).
It's also just so damn enjoyable: to hear Pat run the whole gamut of acoustic, electric and guitar synth; to hear the main themes introduced then seamlessly reconfigured much later on, like the Reichian pulse in the Opening coming back in Parts 2 & 3; to hear all the buildups in tempo and intensity suddenly stop in their tracks, only to immediately start building up the next stage of the journey. The Way Up always feels like a lengthy train ride to me, no doubt helped by Metheny's career-long evocation of Midwestern open space; if you ever feel less than enamoured with the scenery for a bit (I'm not crazy about Grégoire Maret's guest harmonica solo, for instance) there'll be something else, both new and familiar, along shortly. And as a complete journey, I seriously can't rate The Way Up highly enough. Essential early 21st century jazz at its finest.