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Pat Metheny - The Way Up CD (album) cover

THE WAY UP

Pat Metheny

 

Jazz Rock/Fusion

4.26 | 169 ratings

From Progarchives.com, the ultimate progressive rock music website

Negoba
Prog Reviewer
5 stars A Progressive Soft Jazz Masterpiece

What?!&? Without a doubt, this album seems a strange choice for the best album of the last ten years or more. And yet, as I list the great music of the last decade, it is difficult to come up with an album that aspires to such heights and then surpasses them. In researching this review, I found the following quote from Pat Metheny. Of all the arguments on PA about the definition of prog, this quote captures some of the essence of what we love like I've never read before.

"At the core of THE WAY UP, in some ways it's a protest record for us. It's a record I think that, that represents our desire to reconcile complexity in the face of a culture that rejects complexity, and to honor the impulse that we have to understand things through nuance and detail in the face of a culture that is more and more, year by year rejecting nuance and detail. To me the meaning of the title, THE WAY UP is our way of saying that simplification and ignorance and lack of awareness is not going to lead in the right direction and particularly in the context of American culture, that kind of lowest common denominator-type of cultural gravity is beginning to carry with it a weight that is the weight of the majority and we are resisting that with every ounce of our being."

Before going into my long line of superlatives, I must make something clear. This is Pat Metheny. The master of contemporary soft jazz guitar. THE WAY UP is still, at its core, based on Pat Metheny's signature sound(s). There are some who will upon first listen will immediately cringe "Muzak!!!" and run away long before even finishing this work once. What's more, despite the fact that the sharp edges come with a cushion, this music is so complex that after 10-20 listens I'm only just starting to settle into what the work is really about.

Many jazz purists hate this album for the very reasons people on this site will love it. Complex syncopations, dissonance, interweaving written lead lines, exotic instrumentation, all the trappings of prog are here. Only the Lamb and TFTO shoot for the moon like this record, and neither hit target as consistently. There is no free form jamming here at all. Melodic themes and rhythmic ideas run through the work, both during the improvised parts and the lengthy composed sections. Though there are multiple solos, they always work within the structure of the composition.

THE WAY UP is ambitiously complex in composition, resembling a classical symphony more than any jazz record. Unlike his songwriting on any work before, this album was the result of Metheny and longtime collaborator Lyle Mays sitting together in a room for six weeks laboriously planning first the general ideas, and then the specifics of the piece. Armed with a shared vision and a two volume treatise on voice leading, the two integrated the styles of their entire careers into a shared vision that then evolved in the studio. As ideas came into reality, the two reworked, recruited specific musicians and finally produced their true magnum opus.

The record is really one 68 minute piece which for track purposes is divided into 4 sections. Sonically the album is meant to be one sonic experience but has more than four distinct parts. The first track (Opening) is a 5 minute tour de force with odd timing that is going to grab the prog fan's attention immediately. Metheny plays at least 4 guitars on this track alone, and Mays also employs multiple tonalities all calling and responding in off time to create one of the most beautifully complex passages ever.

The piece really is an exposition, for the rest of the work spends a much great amount of time building and releasing, spanning an enormous amount of musical territory. The amount of art packed into this work is mind-blowing. By Part two, the music is allowed to slowly evolve into a controlled chaos that would be completely avant if not held down by the grooving hand of drummer Antonio Sanchez. Somehow, Sanchez is able to make insane syncopations still move, enlivening what could have been a cold piece of calculation into a living piece of beauty. While all the players are masters at peak performance level, Sanchez is the one who leaves me aghast.

Reading back, I realize I'm just using different over the top exclamations to say THE WAY UP is phenomenal and you should get it. Certainly, I advise virtually everyone try out the record. There are some great live renditions available on youtube, and samples abound. You'll know after listening to "Opening" what awaits if you're willing to dive in. It takes a number of listens before the full work is going to sink in, but it's well worth it.

One more delicious quote from the Metheny interview on the album.

"You know, jazz is still under discussion and I hope to keep it that way."

5+/5 stars.

Negoba | 5/5 |

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