Pat Metheny: From This Place review | John Fordham's jazz album of the month

(Nonesuch)
Metheny’s superb band crack through his postbop experiments, unrehearsed, and the addition of orchestral arrangements broadens the appeal

For decades as a bestselling jazz fusion superstar with a songwriter’s imagination, guitarist Pat Metheny has negotiated the slippery ground between postbop, smooth jazz and edgy experiments that have partnered him with mavericks from John Zorn to the late Ornette Coleman. His first album of all-new material in five years finds Metheny’s wide-horizons composing vision back at its lyrical best, with the sentimental beckoning of his romantic leanings firmly buttoned. The sound of the Grammy-showered Pat Metheny Group of the 1980s and 90s is engagingly audible sometimes, but the engine of this set is the superb jazz playing of Metheny’s current live band, featuring Birdman-score drummer Antonio Sanchez, double bassist Linda May Han Oh, and UK pianist Gwilym Simcock.

Pat Metheny: From This Place album art work
Pat Metheny: From This Place album art work Photograph: Publicity Image

Recording unrehearsed (the leader’s idea) they rip through the music with freewheeling relish, with Meshell Ndegeocello’s haunting voice and Grégoire Maret’s harmonica adding one telling guest contribution each. America Undefined (a James Baldwin reference) packs racing solos, rocking vamps, dreamy reflections and train-bell clangs, passing as if on fierce winds, into its 13-plus minutes. Metheny is Wes Montgomery-like on the catchy Wide and Far, plugs his horn-mimicking synth guitar into the Latin-gliding Same River, and zigzags through the jazzy Pathmaker, while the whole band erupts joyously on standout track Everything Explained, the most symmetrically song-shaped piece. Metheny subsequently dubbed in classical orchestral parts by himself and other classy arrangers. These are mostly discreet, at times beguiling or dramatic, and occasionally distractingly smoochy, as on the closing Love May Take Awhile. They will be superfluous for some, but they do provide this fine album with the bigger soundscape, richer textures and probably wider appeal Metheny was after, cooling the improv heat hardly at all.

Also out this month

Life Goes On (ECM) is the third of an unhurried sequence of disorientatingly moving trio recordings by jazz composing legend Carla Bley, with bassist Steve Swallow and saxophonist Andy Sheppard. It contains slow blues, wry tangos and very conversational improv. Vula Viel, Bex Burch’s trio fusing Ghanaian traditions, African instruments, punk jazz and minimalism, deliver their most confident repertoire yet on What’s Not Enough About That? (Vula Viel Records). And young UK saxophonist, poet and activist Alabaster DePlume reveals a tremblingly vocal sax vibrato and a fondness for folksily jigging grooves that seems to bridge Sidney Bechet and Jan Garbarek on To Cy & Lee: Instrumentals Vol 1 (Lost Map Records).


Contributor

John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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