"Where else would you go when you have an ax to grind?"

Friday, January 21, 2005

In your ear
Kevin Wood / Daily Yomiuri Staff Writer
The Way Up
Warner, 2,625 yen

Picking up where 2002's Speaking of Now left off, the Pat Metheny Group take contemporary jazz to a new level on The Way Up. Composed by guitar ace Metheny and longtime creative partner and keyboardist Lyle Mays, The Way Up is an ambitious 68-minute modern jazz concerto divided into four movements.

Within those 68 minutes, Metheny and Mays cover the waterfront, building from opening traffic sounds to a driving beat that evokes a train leaving the station; not some rural bluesman's steam locomotive, but a sleek, ultramodern smooth-running high-speed Shinkansen. The band alternately soars to majestic heights and swoops to intimate depths, scorning the brazen peaks of self-indulgence and depths of soporific navel gazing for an original and eminently listenable exploration of the complex spaces between the two extremes.

Metheny says on his Web site: "At the time we started writing, we saw this as a kind of protest record. It could be seen as our protest against a world where fear has become a cultural and political weapon, a protest against a world where a lack of nuance and detail is considered a good thing, a protest against a culture that values that which can be consumed in small bites over the kinds of efforts and achievements that can only come with a lifetime of work and study."
A 30-year veteran with an armload of Grammys to his credit, Metheny is one of the most talented and distinctive guitarists of the electric era. Mays too, is something of a virtuoso and both are in fine form here, soloing extensively over the more-than-able backing of longtime bassist Steve Rodby and more-recent bandmate, drummer Antonio Sanchez. This core group is joined by trumpeter Coung Vu, guitarist Nando Lauria and harmonica wizard Gregoire Maret.

Vu shines throughout the album, haunting the background with intricate, atmospheric playing reminiscent of Miles Davis' more experimental work. Maret's soulful solo over brushed drums and muted piano in the third movement calls to mind some of John Coltrane's earlier, bluesier playing.

The Way Up reveals a group of exceptional musicians in peak form performing an exceptional composition.
Before the Night is Over
Buffalo Records, 2,381 yen

On the flip side of the jazz coin from the complex progressive fusion of the Pat Metheny Group is the smooth retro simplicity of Torch, an Austin, Texas-based trio whose stock in trade is standards and reasonable facsimiles thereof.

Showcasing the potent voice of Seela Misra, Torch relies on Jon Greene's minimalist drums and Chris Vestre's sparse, melodic guitar for instrumental muscle. Guest bassist Chris Maresh rounds out the group.

With eight of the 12 tracks penned by the band, calling Torch a standards band may seem unfair, but their originals would not seem out of place on a Rosemary Clooney or Tony Bennett album circa 1957. Yet nothing here sounds forced, nostalgic or ironic.

Misra's coy vocals may stray perilously near cutesy at times, but there is a lioness behind the Shirley Temple pose--her rendition of Gershwin's "Nice Work If You Can Get It" takes a backseat to no one, and while composition credits are shared among the band, hers seem to be the dominant voice on such new standards as the post-last call "Nowhere Else to Be."

Stir up a pitcher of martinis, dim the lights and curl up with that special someone. As the title of the band's previous album says, this is Music to Stay Home To.

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