Beyond the Missouri Sky
Pat Metheny, Guitar
Verve 314 537 130-2
I have never been to Missouri, until now.
On the surface, collaboration between Charlie Haden and Pat Metheny may seem like two musical worlds colliding. Haden will always be associated with the free school of jazz and Metheny with his own sound, a blend of jazz, pop, and Latin music. Yet, both of these musicians go much deeper than that. They come from small towns in Missouri and both have been influenced by their upbringing. It is interesting how the two have incorporated folk music into their own styles. Both have clarity in their playing, and a spiritual depth in their music.
Haden has made a number of duo records in recent years with such artists as Hank Jones and Kenny Barron, and each presents Haden as the most patient player in jazz. He has never seen the need for obvious displays of technique; simply, he makes every note count. Interestingly, Haden encouraged Metheny to include overdubbing on this CD. Metheny included extra guitar tracks, as well as some synthesizer and percussion.
The tunes are a mix of originals and lesser-known gems. In Waltz for Ruth, the listener experiences what this record aspires to be - a simple collaboration between two great musicians. Metheny plays Haden's melody on a nylon string guitar, and launches into a solo displaying his melodic sense and fascinating use of rhythm.
The only track close to a jazz standard is Henry Mancini's title tune from the film Two for the Road. This little-heard tune is filled with harmonic twists and turns that Haden and Metheny navigate beautifully. It also provides a chance to explore the interesting paradox in the sound of this duo. The tempo and melody of the tune suggest a joyous promenade, yet the result is a hesitating meditation.
First Song is Charlie Haden's best known composition. His solo is perfect. Again, every note, every phrase, every sound has its place and purpose. Metheny plays a chorded solo with an uneasy edge to it. There is a sense of holding back, as though he wants to explode into a flurry of notes and sound. He resists admirably. The result is a captivating contradiction. If the bass solo made you sit back and close your eyes, the guitar solo will slide you forward and open them
There is a mid-west flavor in the music appropriate to the State of Missouri. Check out the tracks The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress, The Precious Jewel, and He's Gone Away. These three tracks are the album's heartland. Not only were these tunes the first to be considered for the project, they became the basis for the rest of the selections.
I found some of Methenys overdubbing disappointing. In many of the tracks, Metheny uses synth string pads that, while an interesting idea, seem to take away from the music's organic quality. Every time I heard the synth rising out of the music, I found myself wishing for the same effect but played by a real string section.
Spiritual, written by Haden's son Josh, closes the album and is composed in the true Haden spirit. Metheny has added percussion to this one - a backbeat makes this spiritual sound like the closing of Saturday Night Live! Where most of Beyond the Missouri Sky is thoughtful and introspective, two tracks, Spiritual and The Precious Jewel, offer an optimistic message.
Charlie Haden calls the music of Pat Metheny "contemporary impressionistic Americana." This is an accurate description of the music in Beyond the Missouri Sky, depicting a land of endless skies, sunsets, dreams and restlessness.
My first trip to Missouri has ended, but I will be back.
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