Monday, January 10, 2005

Brief reviews: Green/Malone, Nashville All-Stars, Pat Metheny Group

Was listening to: Jazz at the Bistro by Benny Green and Russell Malone (2003). I looked forward to hearing this. For some reason, I was just in the mood for some duet music, and really wanted to hear something between guitarist and pianist. I have mixed feelings about this disc. The music is pleasant enough. I like the mix of jazz standards, pop tunes and originals. As music to work or read by, this stuff is great. And I believe these two are terrific musicians. They collaborate well.

But this disc is, for me now, a bit disappointing. The songs seems arranged well, but there is little improvisation and little to excite the listener. And while I know the setting of this live disc is quiet and soft, there are some tunes that lack energy. A quiet tune can have plenty of energy, as these two have demonstrated.

As I stated, I think the disc is pleasant but not outstanding. I like the medley of "Killing Me Softly" and the old Bee Gees tune "How Deep Is Your Love." I really can't explain why I like it other than to say it comes off nicely.

A recent recommendation: I have my friend and colleague Glenn Clayton to thank for loaning me a most enjoyable collection called After the Riot at Newport (1960, 1989) by the Nashville All-Stars and for telling me the interesting story surrounding its recording. I have been enjoying this disc immensely. It features the playing of Chet Atkins, Boots Randolph, and Hank Garland, and Floyd Cramer as well as other musicians primarily known in the Country music genre. But this is some solid jazz jamming. I got the feeling I was hanging out with musicians who were oblivious to and without need of an audience. But this isn't music just for musicians. Standards like "'S Wonderful," "Round Midnight," and "Frankie and Johnnie" mix naturally with extended jam sessions like "Opus to Funk" and my personal favorite, "Relaxin'." Here we also hear a then young Gary Burton before his days as terrific bandleader and teacher.

As my friend Curt Bradshaw would say, "If you don't like this, then you don't like music." I noticed at least one website lists After the Riot at Newport among its 100 Greatest "Live" Jazz Albums. If you can get a copy, I suspect you will be inclined to agree.

Most anticipated: The music in my player (really on my computer, the best stereo I've ever had) lately has been the new opus delecti by The Pat Metheny Group entitled The Way Up. Pat is certainly one of my favorite musicians and composers and I've been excited about the release of every disc he's been a part of for the past ten years. When I read that this was to be a single, 68 minute long tune, I did worry that I'd have another Zero Tolerance For Silence or Sign of Four on my hands. The best I can say about those efforts is that I'm working to appreciate them.
But this album is everything that I hoped for. Longtime fans should love it because it seems to take the best musical ideas of Pat and Lyle Mays' many years of collaboration and expand them in a panoramic journey. I do not hear strains of old tunes here, but I get a strong sense of them. I'm not sure if that point communicates to anyone not familiar with the group's music, but I suspect fans will know what I mean.
Metheny has stated that The Way Up is a protest album. I think it is worth the trouble to go to the group's website and see what he means by this. But one thing he says is that the album can be seen as 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 the smallest bites over the kinds of efforts and achievements that can only come with a lifetime of work and study." I hope that reproducing these thoughts does not lead people to think this is pretentious music where one is expected to feel like an idiot if he doesn't "get it."
Metheny and company are as accessible as they have always been without sacrificing integrity. The Way Up, as a composition and as a recording, works on some pretty deep levels I'm only now starting to get at. At the same time, the experience of listening on the surface level is only heightened by repeated listenings. This is a rich, thoughtful piece that may well come to be viewed as a landmark in the ever blossoming history of jazz.

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