Release date date: March 13th 2007
"Quartet" is the second installment in the collaboration between guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau that was squeezed into six straight days in the studio. Whereas the first installment, "Metheny-Mehldau" was based mainly around duets, "Quartet", as the title suggests, offers a more filled out sound owing to the addition of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard. Of the 11 tracks there is only one co-composition, the opener, "A Night Away", which features a very nimble and appealing base line from Larry Grenadier.
We noted in our review of "Metheny–Mehldau" the difficulty of pairing guitar with piano in jazz. Here Pat Metheny experiments with some success with guitar synthesizer, for example sounding harp-like on "The Sound Of Water" and rock-flash on "Fear and Trembling" (a reworking of the Brad Mehldau composition which originally appeared on the excellent "House On Hill") and almost trumpet-like on "Towards The Light" or at the end of "Secret Beach". While there is no doubt that the combination is best when Pat Metheny is playing with his accustomed low distortion, slightly sweet jazz guitar sound, these experiments come close to success in bringing additional tonal interest to what is a longish, 70 minute, outing.
Of course it is the interplay between two of the brightest talents in current jazz that is the real selling point here. Pat Metheny's "Towards The Light" and the latin based "En La Tierra Que No Olvida" or Brad Mehldau's "Santa Cruz Slacker" are good examples of how the interchanges spark off unexpected outcomes. With two such gifted improvisers there was always going to be plenty to say but it still emerges as a pleasant surprise that one and one makes more than two in this case.
As would be expected, the addition of bass and drums gives more drive. There is a good synergy between Jeff Ballard's more rock orientated approach to jazz drumming and Pat Metheny's known preferences in this direction. So, if the overall feel and approach is clearly that of a Pat Metheny album, there is enough space for Brad Mehldau and Larry Grenadier to impart some less linear jazz dynamics into the mix.
Overall, this is an album that has little fear of a popular jazz close to the mainstream and which succeeds as the more you listen, the more winning it becomes.
The success of the collaboration has now led to a US wide tour which is attracting a great deal of attention. Nate Chinen in a "New York Times" article of 8th April reported on the progress of the tour and interviewed both Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau. Not surprisingly, but interestingly, both cite the Wes Montgomery / Wynton Kelly album "Smokin' At The Half Note" as a decisive early influence.
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Amazon Brad Mehldau album slideshow:
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