24 July 2008


Despite the widespread popularity and critical successes of Pat Metheny Group, his collaboration with the pianist Lyle Mays, much of Pat Metheny's greatest work has come in a trio setting. Beginning with Bright Size Life, his first album which also featured Jaco Pastorious, Metheny has thrived in the setting. This is partly because he has surrounded himself with the ablest of sidemen, including Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Bill Stewart, Dave Holland, and Roy Haynes, among others. However, while Metheny is undoubtedly spurred on by his skilled sidemen, one cannot understate how well-suited he is to the trio setting. Because Metheny is such a free player, both melodically and rhythmically, the bass-and-drums trio setting allows him ample room to explore, which he does to a very satisfying effect. He explores the outer limits of harmony and rhythm much like Ornette Coleman, one of his chief influences. Of all living musicians, only Coleman and Sonny Rollins are on par with Metheny's skill in the trio setting. Metheny's trio albums (including Bright Size Life, Rejoicing, Question and Answer, and Trio 99 → 00) are among the highlights of late-twentieth-century postbop.

With that in mind, you can imagine how much Tokyo Day Trip, piqued my interest. The EP is comprised of various live recordings originally issued as bonus tracks on different projects. Metheny is accompanied by the same men on his recent critical success, Day Trip, bassist Christian McBride and Mexican wunderkind Antonio Sanchez. I saw this trio in Florida when I was still in college, and the experience remains one of the five best concerts I have ever attended. McBride is one of the few bassists who can keep up with Metheny, and a giant of jazz in his own right, while Sanchez is a master at layering complex rhythms against Metheny's melodic lines.

The EP, comprised completely of Metheny compositions, is pretty evenly balanced between slower lyrical pieces and uptempo barnburners. The slower pieces, "Tromsø," "Inori," and "The Night Becomes You," are all well-done tunes full of expression by Metheny and company. But the real highlights of the set are "Traveling Fast" and "Back Arm & Backcharge." Traveling Fast opens up with a series of open fifths that harken back to Metheny's first album, Bright Size Life. After quickly dispensing with the melody, Metheny works into a frenetic solo which exhibits the characteristic Metheny sound: furious runs and tricky intervals in a display of dexterous fingerwork combined with sophisticated harmony. Not to be outdone, McBride presents an impressive solo himself before Sanchez gives a melodic drum solo reminiscent of Max Roach's inimitable style. Metheny and company close out the tune with a slow fade, juxtaposed against the thrilling previous ten minutes.

"Back Arm and Backcharge" opens with a flurry of hard strumming by Metheny and McBride, and commences with a thoroughly energetic and serpentine melody. The tune itself is a series of convoluted figures landing on the same root, giving the disorienting melody a sense of grounding. The melody works into a spontaneous exploration of harmony before reasserting the opening figure. Afterwards, Metheny plays a solo that combines Ornette Coleman's adventurous harmonic exploration with a melodic construction that could only come from his own mind. Simply put, this solo is among the most exhilarating ever put down in the history of jazz; on par with Charlie Parker's solo on "Koko" and John Coltrane's solo on "Giant Steps." Simply thinking about the solo gives me goosebumps. Much like Tommy Flanagan on "Giant Steps," Christian McBride is given the task of following the master. Also like Flanagan, McBride asserts himself with authority, with assistance from Metheny's comping, which evokes both Jimi Hendrix and Herbie Hancock. All the more impressive is the fact that McBride can match Metheny's overdriven intensity on an acoustic bass. Underlying the two are Sanchez's deft polyrhythms. Just as soon as it has started, though, the tune is over, as Metheny, McBride, and Sanchez are content to leave you wanting more rather than overdoing it.

Fans of Metheny have been given a rare treat by Metheny and his record label, Nonesuch. Tokyo Day Trip exhibits one of the best working groups in jazz today in its natural setting, creating art of the highest order.

Personnel: Pat Metheny, guitars; Christian McBride, bass; Antonio Sanchez, drums
Track Listing: Tromsø ; Traveling Fast; Inori; Back Arm & Blackcharge; The Night Becomes You

No comments: