Cover Story [Issue
The Way Up
The Way Up
CD Nonesuch )
to Pat Metheny on the ONE WAY CD 13
Since his emergence
on the jazz scene with the release of his debut album, Bright Size Life,
Pat Metheny has constantly redefined nearly every aspect of playing guitar.
Using uncanny technical prowess, distinctive tone, experimental arrangements, and complex songwriting, the Missouri native has continually
established himself as one of jazz's most significant architects.
Having earned 16 Grammy Awards in a record-breaking nine categories,
one would think that the 50-year-old maverick would feel the desire
to rest on his laurels after a staggering career. Amazingly, Metheny
seems to grow more daring with each successive pursuit.
The guitar prodigy has led various incarnations of the Pat Metheny Group
since 1977, in which they embarked on a successful journey with
the self-titled first album. On their latest effort, The Way
Up, Metheny and his supporting cast have reached yet another
artistic landmark. One of the most interesting aspects of the project
is that the entire CD is an epic, 68-minute piece. While Metheny
realizes that the goal of creating a monumental composition was
a challenging undertaking, he notes that the group has always been
interested in eliminating musical boundaries. He explains, "We've
been headed in the direction of expanding different kinds of structures
and pushing what a jazz group can be in the modern era with all
the possibilities that are particular to this time. That's been
one of the main focuses of the band from the beginning; not just
in terms of the instruments we use and the sound that we make, but
also on a structural level. Even in the early days of the group,
there were always things going on that sort of took it outside the
straight up and down song form. There was always a motivation to
push it [the song structure] a little bit and have different sections
that you would improvise on from the written material."
Metheny also feels that the latest endeavor was more of a natural
evolution than a sudden, impulsive decision. He believes that the
process of pushing the envelope for structure and change can be
traced back throughout his catalogue. He reflects, "We've always
been looking towards that idea [of making an extended composition]
and there have been a couple of records along the way that even
had this feeling of being continuous from the beginning to the end.
As Falls Wichita [So Falls Wichita Falls] was an early record
like that or there's a record I made, Secret Story, that kind of
just kept going and never really stopped, or even Imaginary Day,
which is a recent group record. But, those were all kind of loosely
grouped-together, disparate pieces."
As far as labeling the type of composition featured on The Way Up,
Metheny seems to believe that it might defy specific definition
in the standard musical lexicon. He explains, "I've heard people
describe it as a suite, which it really technically isn't. A suite
would be like a loosely grouped-together thing [piece]. This really
is kind of compositionally dedicated to the development of the particular
ideas that are laid out in the first 20 minutes of the record. In
that sense, it follows more of a formal structure or classical kind
of thing. There aren't too many examples in jazz of that particular
kind of writing."
From the start, pianist/keyboardist Lyle Mays has been a collaborator
and creative sounding board off which the guitarist has done much
of his best writing. However, the bandleader notes that the partnership
has evolved over time. While many venerated songwriting teams such
as Lennon and McCartney or Gilbert and Sullivan found their ability
to work with one another soured in time, Metheny and Mays have been
able to deepen their musical bond and continue to inspire one another.
Metheny reveals, "Starting in the mid-90s, we entered a zone
of much more genuine collaborative writing. There was a record,
We Live Here, that sort of opened up a new territory of actually
filling in a lot more stuff sitting in the same room together. And
that continued through all the records that followed: Imaginary
Day became a little more that way, Quartet had a lot
of stuff like that, Speaking of Now there was a lot of stuff like
To write The Way Up, Metheny and Mays spent much time simply
discussing the project before even picking up their instruments
to begin crafting the material. The guitarist wanted to ensure that
they had a clear understanding of the task at hand and what musical
message they were trying to express. He remembers, "We sat
in a room for six weeks working eight, ten, 12, 14 hours a day with
this goal in mind of coming up with a single piece that could represent
where the group was at now. I have to say that before we wrote a
note, we talked for about three days about the world we that find
ourselves living in now and the climate that we felt like writing
a bunch of music that was in protest in the way that the culture
has been moving of making things shorter and shorter, dumber and
dumber, and less harmonically interesting, less structurally interesting."
As the duo delved into the writing process, the time allotted to
rehearse and prepare for the recording drew to a close. Ultimately,
Metheny recalls that the band had no time to learn the material
because the writing stage went well into the eleventh hour and beyond.
He admits, "We had hoped that we would have a week or two to
rehearse; but, as the piece became more and more ambitious, we ended
up with absolutely no time to rehearse because we were writing up
to literally the night before we went into the studio to record."
Because the Pat Metheny Group is literally a gathering of the world's
preeminent jazz musicians, the recording process went exceptionally
smoothly. As both an artist and producer, Metheny found recording
The Way Up to test his conceptual horizons because, "The
guitar component in this [CD] was going to be pretty huge, kind
of an orchestral thing and in many ways recording this was a lot
like making a movie: you were playing things out of sequence and
you were playing where there weren't things [instruments]. But,
you knew there were going to be things there later so you had to
imagine how they were going to be, especially for me because I knew
I wanted to do a whole lot of guitar orchestration stuff, which
I hadn't done for quite a while."
Not only did the process resemble movie production, but the end
result is possibly the group's most grand, cinematic effort to date.
While the collaborators certainly deserve an enormous amount of
credit for the remarkable work, Metheny is quick to share the praise
with the other members of the sextet. The remaining veteran member
of the group is bassist, Steve Rodby. With great admiration, Metheny
describes, "On so many levels, Steve's presence is that of
organizer. He helps not only from the playing standpoint, but his
role in the production of the records is absolutely gigantic and
so important to how it all comes together."
The remaining three members of the band are from around the world
and Metheny could not be more honored to perform with them. In discussing
Antonio Sanchez, PMG's latest drummer, Metheny beams, "Antonio
is the drummer that I thought was never going to be born. He's got
this incredible skill to get inside the music with a kind of maturity
and musicality that goes along with this sort of superhuman facility
on the instrument that took us a while to completely understand.
" Sanchez's rhythmic drive propels the music's numerous shifts
in time and timbre with dazzling fluidity.
Another sound that permeates richly throughout the album is the
ethereal cry of Cuong Vu's trumpet. Of the Vietnamese trumpeter,
the maestro praises, "He is a really unique, new voice in the
music who has done something that doesn't happen very often where
somebody has invented a place for themselves in the music. A little
bit like when Bill Frisell came along and there really wasn't a
spot like the before he came along for a guitar player. He carved
out this new role. To me, Cuong has done a very similar type of
thing with the trumpet. He's just got this amazing textural skill
that opens up a new role for what a trumpet player can do in a group
Perhaps the most interesting instrument to join the band on The
Way Up 's recording is the harmonica work of Switzerland's Gregoire
Maret. While creating the 400-page score for the composition, Metheny
explains that an instrumental voice was lacking in the production.
The guitarist coincidentally met Maret while playing a concert with
Cassandra Wilson and discovered, "When I got together with
him, I was quite pleased that he was extremely familiar with our
music and had followed it very closely. He was really excited about
the possibility of doing something with us and it worked out perfectly.
Suddenly, we have a harmonica player." In the opening section
of The Way Up's Part Two, Maret's soulful playing defies
description and conjures mesmerizing attention.
Without a doubt, The Way Up is sonic hallmark that requires
multiple listens to be fully appreciated in scope and beauty. While
it is both sophisticated and complex, the Pat Metheny Group once
again communicates with its audience on several levels that will
inspire all fans. Metheny is excited by the early reaction and awaits
performing the composition in its entirety on the upcoming world
tour. He closes, "I have a lot of faith in the piece and I
know, being involved with the group after all these years, that
we're up to the task."
The Way Up
to (Pat Metheny) on the ONE WAY CD