Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Music of Pat Metheny – The Way Up

This song brings back dear memories to mind. It is my FIRST actual PMG recording purchase. I didn’t know much about it before it was released, but I played the heck out of the little snippet that they had available on his website, and I knew then that I had to have it. I had only just graduated from college that May of ’05, so this song forever stands as a hallmark of my coming of age.

Listening to it was something else altogether different. The Way Up has certainly polarized PMG fans; some do not like his new direction neither do they appreciate the fact that the typical PMG humming that they’ve come to love is only restricted to a mere 2 minutes in Part 3. A lot of his fans would describe this as his Magnus Opus. Judging from the complexity of just listening to the piece in its entirety, without having listened to his entire discography, I was already convinced that it was a masterpiece.

In the Opening, the Group goes all “space-age”, racing through a whole bunch of motifs and key changes. It literally starts off sounding like the cacophony from an oncoming train. It is a good introduction to the new line up and the vast array of sounds that they are capable of producing. (Until I watched the DVD version of this concert, it was nigh well impossible for me to know which instrument was producing which sound. The Ghostly whimpering from Cuong Vu’s trumpet is beautiful, and Metheny’s use of an E-Bow was a new experience for me).

Part I, starts off with the main theme (the first 4 minutes was the website snippet released to the public), played out in its simplistic beauty. A standout performance from Antonio Sanchez, his drum work sets this piece apart. Remaining as a force, ever present to guide the work through all its changes, and managing to keep it technical, but so very musical to even an untrained ear like mine.
This is the longest portion, but probably also the easiest for a person to digest first time around.

Part II - well, the crescendo about 2 minutes into it - presents us with a snippet of yet another theme, which is eventually fully elucidated in Part III. The Piano work of Lyle Mays is at its most beautiful and haunting within the relative stillness allowed in Part II. The PMG definitely “throws down” in Part II, guided first by Cuong Vu’s trumpeting, and then by the PMG lineup’s most unique inclusion - Greg Maret’s Harmonica. (Truthfully though, percussionist Nana Vasconcelo's "instrument" from Farmer's Trust, definitely takes the cake as strangest inclusion)

Part III begins with a deep resounding bass line and then settles into a full exploration of the aforementioned theme drawn from Part II. And towards the end, the wordless humming of the PMG draws us through to a beautiful climax: the main theme played out in beautiful artistic contemplation, each instrument adding its own nuance. Personally, hearing it lifts my soul each and every time: it is the crowning moment of a job well done. So much hope is imbued in the beautiful exploration of such a minute section.

I can certainly say that the first listen wasn’t easy …but this is not one of those pieces that you have to be trained to appreciate – the appreciation comes on its own. I once heard the expression,
Everytime you ought to rewind, you find there’s more to find
This work typifies that expression. It is so densely packed with planned nuances and little touches that are a joy to discover anytime you peruse through it. I have the joy of discovering each of these little jewels at my own pace, but I have to respect the genius who within a limited span of time planned for the pacing of it all, and the unity of the composition.

The Way Up, of late, has become something else to me – a source of hope. I recently listened to one of the PMG’s earlier recordings, where a nascent inkling of The Way Up’s main theme can distinctly be heard. This earlier recording predates the current release by about 30 years. To think that someone can be inspired so deeply, act on that inspiration, and not being satisfied retain that inspiration in his mind (allowing it to ruminate), and come back 30 years later and concoct a masterpiece…now that is certainly divine.

It gives me hope to think that perhaps the wisdom born of my mind and the yearning of my soul is indeed useful. I need to note down the vision, but I also have to be wary of what changes may come, and I might need some help clearing the vision up. I suspect that is what Lyle Mays is to Pat Metheny – a soundboard who understands what Pat’s vision is when everyone else might think he’s out of sorts.

5 years later, 5 years out of college, this masterpiece is always one I turn to, even while still discovering his earlier impressive discography that shows me what led up to the Magnus Opus.

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