wed 08/04/2020

Album: Pat Metheny – From This Place | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Pat Metheny – From This Place

Album: Pat Metheny – From This Place

A beautiful but complex album

From This Place (Nonesuch) is a complex, meticulously produced and many-layered album which demands concentrated and repeated listening. In many ways, it is all the better for it. Pat Metheny himself has written an essay or “Album Notes” of no fewer than 2,020 words to explain how the concept of the album evolved, as it went through a several-stage process of  conception, recording, arranging, production.

From This Place (Nonesuch) is a complex, meticulously produced and many-layered album which demands concentrated and repeated listening. In many ways, it is all the better for it. Pat Metheny himself has written an essay or “Album Notes” of no fewer than 2,020 words to explain how the concept of the album evolved, as it went through a several-stage process of  conception, recording, arranging, production. He also explains its significance in his oeuvre: he calls it “a kind of musical culmination, reflecting a wide range of expressions that have interested me over the years.”

There are, of course, many and far simpler ways to make an album. The guitarist has been touring the world with his current Pat Metheny Group of Gwilym Simcock (piano) Linda May Han Oh (bass) and Antonio Sanchez (drums) and Metheny himself in repeated long bursts ever since their first concert in Japan in May 2016, and the gigs they have done together now run easily into the hundreds. The group works together at an astonishing level; this is one of the top working bands in jazz in the world. Their live performing repertoire has essentially been Metheny’s back catalogue.

And yet Metheny has eschewed the idea of just making a recording to document this quartet in action in favour of something far more worked and produced. Complex creation processes have indeed become the norm for Metheny. In 2014 he wrote a massive half-hour long tribute to Eberhard Weber, Hommage. The work was first performed at gala concerts in Stuttgart in early January 2015, and a recording of the concert was issued by ECM. In that instance the complexity involved taking looped archive video of Eberhard Weber playing – Metheny called it “visual sampling” - and incorporating it into a live performance by a big group of star soloists and a full big band.

From This Place is just as ambitious as Hommage. Metheny explains the lightbulb moment that occurred to him after a conversation with the great bassist Ron Carter: “So, why not write a bunch of new music to be presented fresh for the first time in the studio to this band I knew so well?” That done, the process went on in several more stages: Metheny took the material which the quartet had recorded, and worked with two top arrangers, Alan Broadbent and Gil Goldstein. Their arranging brief was to pay overt homage both to the legacy of CTI Records and Don Sebesky and to “film scoring and American movie music in general.”

The opening track is the most ambitious. “America Undefined” is over thirteen minutes long, symphonic in its scale, going through several linked and contrasted sections, working with scale motifs, setting a tone of seriousness, leaving pauses at the end of phrases to evaluate them. I found it, certainly initially, to be quite hard going, but as its twists and turns become more familiar things do become easier, and it is undeniably a wonderful vehicle for both Gwilym Simcock and then Metheny as soloists.

What Metheny’s elaborate process does at its best is to provide a luxuriant backdrop for the guitarist’s own fabulously lyrical playing and melodic instincts. There are echoes of other sound-worlds here too, notably Alan Broadbent’s arrangements for strings backing Charlie Haden’s Quartet West on albums such as Now is the Hour. There is a big difference, however. Rather than, say, Charlie Haden playing an improvised bass solo over the strings and keeping to the song-form in a haunting tune like “The Left Hand of God”, the arranger on From This Place (on the information available it is not yet possible to work out which arranger has taken which track) takes, for example, a free-form improvised solo by Linda May Han Oh and provides it with spectral backing, and in a phrase from Metheny’s note, “channel[s] it [..] through the prism of large scale orchestration”. I found the results astonishingly beautiful, particularly the refined, hushed, precisely calibrated orchestral endings to several of the tunes. Others with less of a taste for saccharine will differ. 

There are guests who make fine contributions too: harmonica player Gregoire Maret is irresistibly melodic on the track “The Past in Us”. Singer MeShell NdegeOcello in the title track “From this Place”, written in November 2016, provides a touching lament as she reflects on the inevitable “fear and hurt” that the election of Trump was going to cause.

The release of From This Place is coinciding with sad news. The death of the original pianist of the Pat Metheny Group, Lyle Mays at the age of just 66 last weekend has left jazz musicians and the community of Metheny fans bereft. There has been a huge outpouring of tributes. Gwilym Simcock, who has Mays’ ‘chair’ in the current band has written: “So much character, beauty and warmth in the way he played and wrote.” The death of Lyle Mays recalls more innocent times. Times when things were...yes...so much simpler.

@sebscotney

The death this week of pianist Lyle Mays from Metheny's early groups recalls more innocent simpler times.

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Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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An eagle-eyed reader has written to me to correct a fact in this review. Although the very first news of the existence of Metheny's current quartet came in early 2016 from the Seoul Jazz Festival, the group's first concert was actually in Kawasaki, Japan. I have amended accordingly. Many thanks. 

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