Pat Metheny is back with another album full of his trademark lyrical melodies and prodigious guitar and guitar-synth technique. Any of his fans will recognize his writing immediately, but what's new here is the extended format of the pieces. Ranging in length from five to 26 minutes, they don't have the accessible quality of so many of the compositions Metheny has brought us over the years, nor is there a standout "single". Instead, the four pieces, entitled "Opening," "Part One," "Part Two," and "Part Three," hang together in a single continuum rather than an album of individual compositions. In fact, the music dies down but never actually stops during the entire 68 minutes of the album; the main theme, as well as other ideas, are established and then re-emerge throughout.
"Opening" sets the stage with a lively, angular accompaniment to Metheny's smooth melody, but things get underway in earnest with "Part One." The album's main theme is introduced: a plaintive melody line featuring a pattern centered around only one note, but grows in intensity as the chords underneath it shift relentlessly.
The accompaniment, ranging from gentle to insistent, is most often a clock-like series of mid-tempo eighth notes, giving a feeling of excitement yet also of the inevitability of time's passage. During some sections this pulse disappears, or merely slows and dims, but it always returns --- almost like the daily transition of stepping out of a peaceful apartment onto a bustling city street. In fact, the album’s cover artwork hints at exactly such a cityscape theme. The excitement of the city is conveyed well here, too, through a sense of driven seeking in the music; the eighth note remains constant throughout, even though the time signatures sometime shift.
Metheny’s guitar chops are in fine shape here. Much of the melodic material is seemingly scripted, but there is a fair amount of traditional “soloing”, as well. Lyle Mays, Metheny’s longtime keyboardist, is often featured, with sounds reminiscent of Mays’ self-titled first solo album, as well as his second, Street Dreams. Acoustic and electric bassist Steve Rodby, another established Metheny sideman, supports flawlessly.
A new element in Metheny’s sound for this album is its feature of trumpeter Cuong Vu. Some of the most soaring melodic moments are given over to the trumpet, as opposed to Metheny’s famous synth/guitar.
Fans will recognize Metheny's sound immediately on The Way Up, but will have to expand their listening style somewhat to accommodate it. This album, due to its long tracks and cohesiveness as a whole work, as opposed to an emphasis on individual songs, is about as “iPod unfriendly” as can be. Instead, dim the lights, curl up on the couch, press play, and step out the front door into Metheny’s dynamic streetscape.
The Way Up
Nonesuch Records, 2005