Thursday, September 21, 2006

Pat Metheny & Brad Mehldau - Metheny/Mehldau (Nonesuch, 2006)

Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau are musicians that I have respected more than enjoyed over the past several years. I tend to like each man's more adventurous material (Song X and 80/81 for Metheny and Largo for Mehldau) rather than their more popular work, but both are major players on the contemporary jazz scene, so a collaboration between the two is an important album. Seven of the nine tracks on the disc are pure duets, with Mehldau sticking to acoustic piano throughout while Metheny runs the gamut of acoustic and electric guitars. On two tracks, they are joined by Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums. The music begins with a moody and brooding opener, "Unrequited" before moving into "Ahmid-6," a more upbeat and personable duet performance, where both musicians seem well engaged with the song and each other. "Summer Day" has a pastel feel from the mix of electric and acoustic instruments, which gives the music a wistful and nostalgic sensibility, recalling Metheny's duet album with Charlie Haden, Beyond the Missouri Sky. Metheny adds some deft and flashy acoustic guitar to the mix. "Ring of Life" adds bass and drums, finally giving the music a little life and moving things along at a brisk tempo. Mehldau gets a splashy solo backed by bass and drums and Metheny not to be outdone, comes in with a heavily synthed-up guitar solo.

Moving back into the duet scene, "Legend" is another melancholy performance. Mehldau gets a more spritely solo piano interlude during the middle passage of the song. Likewise "Find Me In Your Dreams" is a quiet elegiac duet. "Say the Bother's Name" has bass and drums kick back in with a much needed boost, enlivening the atmosphere that gets a little too stilted and close in the duets. The whole quartet is well engaged on this cut, making me wish that the entire album had been recorded as a quartet project. It would be a hoot to hear this band recorded live, hopefully that is in the works. A few quiet duo songs end the disc, "Annie's Bittersweet Cake" and the all acoustic "Make Peace" which opens with gentle acoustic guitar, and the piano joins quietly to keep the music peaceful and reflective. There's some nice acoustic guitar - piano interplay here. The music on this disc is impeccably played as can be imagined from musicians of this level, but there's just a sense of clinical lifelessness to some of the duo tracks that leaves me cold. The quartet tracks are really quite nice, adding some bluesy exuberance to the proceedings and snapping the co-leaders out of the torpor they occasionally fall into. Regardless, fans of either of the two principals will find this enjoyable, and it will probably prove to be quite popular.

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