Saturday, May 19, 2018

Pat Metheny - 1995 "We Live Here"

We Live Here is an album by the Pat Metheny Group that won the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Jazz Album in 1995.

The first Pat Metheny Group recording in five years is a bit unusual in two ways. The band uses "contemporary" pop rhythms on many of their selections but in creative ways and without watering down the popular group's musical identity. In addition Metheny for the first time in his recording career sounds a bit like his early influence Wes Montgomery on a few of the songs. With his longtime sidemen (keyboardist Lyle Mays, bassist Steve Rodby and drummer Paul Wertico) all in top form, Metheny successfully reconciles his quartet's sound with that of the pop music world, using modern technology to expand the possibilities of his own unusual vision of creative improvised music. And as a bonus, some of the melodies are catchy.

Returning to the dual-vocal septet line-up of Still Life (Talking) (released in 1987; reissued this year by Nonesuch) with percussionist Luis Conte replacing Armando Marçal, We Live Here's use of programmed rhythm loops and easy-on-the-ears grooves could be considered a concerted commercial attempt by Metheny to expand his already substantial audience. But it also represented its own kind of risk.

Metheny Group fans are typically drawn to the strong sense of melody that's defined the majority of Metheny's writing—alone and with constant collaborator and Metheny Group keyboardist since inception, Lyle Mays. But the opening one-two-three punch of "Here to Stay," "And Then I Knew" and "The Girls Next Door," threatens, at least on the surface, to cross the fine line that Metheny and Mays sometimes straddle between music of depth and substance and mere ear candy.

Many longtime Metheny fans feared that he'd gone too far. But while the album's production values are as close to pop as anything Metheny has ever done, the strength and commitment of the playing elevates the music beyond simple confection. And while much of the music lacks, for example, the tricky time signatures that are oftentimes part of the Metheny/Mays writing approach, there's far more here than immediately meets the ear.

The majority of the songs on the album reflect an interest in soul and R&B that, given Metheny's already broad purview, should come as no surprise. But while the soft ballad "Something To Remind You" bears the ear-marks of groups like Earth Wind & Fire with its clear verse-chorus form, it's still undeniably filtered through Metheny and Mays' own musical sensibilities. The verse is longer than most pop tunes would allow, and while it certainly sounds effortless, its changes are anything but.

Similarly, the more insistent and up-tempo "Red Sky" possesses a singable chorus featuring the lyricless vocals of David Blamires and Mark Ledford (who, sadly, passed away in 2004). But the changes of its equally lengthy verse would again challenge most players. Just because something sounds this easy doesn't mean it is easy and, in some ways, We Live Here could be considered the Pat Metheny Group's most subversive record.

Despite the album's glossy veneer, there are tracks that—despite groove being an essential component—are anything but smooth. The tribal rhythm of the title track is a logical expansion of ideas first explored on "Barcarole," the opening track on Offramp (ECM, 1981). "Episode D'Azur," sporting a knottier theme as well as shifting bar lines that are more in character, doesn't exactly swing but it comes closer to what Metheny Group naysayers consider to be "real" jazz, despite Mays' layering of string washes and signature synthesizer tone. And the album closer, "Stranger in Town," is a more pedal-to-the-metal burner than anything else found on the record, featuring some of Metheny's most lithe playing—especially during the brief middle section that's more- or-less an interactive trio spot for Metheny, drummer Paul Wertico and Conte.

One of the biggest criticisms of the Pat Metheny Group is that, as it has evolved over the past three decades, it's become less and less about the risk that many feel to be a defining characteristic in jazz. And it's true that there's a significant distance between albums like We Live Here and Metheny's collaboration with free jazz legend Ornette Coleman on Song X (released 1985; reissued by Nonesuch in 2005).

But the finely-detailed, through-composed approach of the Pat Metheny Group on We Live Here and earlier records has been at least partially responsible for a paradigm shift allowing jazz artists to explore more complex ideas while, at the same time, remaining completely accessible—not to mention incorporating contemporary production values in ways that need not be inherently paradoxical or antithetical to the spirit of jazz. And while We Live Here was met with a certain amount of surprise and disappointment on original release, even from longtime Metheny Group fans, it's weathered the test of time extremely well. Taken in context of the group's overall body of work, it is ultimately another signpost along its long and varied journey.

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Track listing
All tracks written by Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays except where noted.

1. "Here to Stay" 7:39
2. "And Then I Knew" 7:53
3. "The Girls Next Door" 5:30
4. "To the End of the World" 12:15
5. "We Live Here" 4:12
6. "Episode d'Azur" (Mays) 8:45
7. "Something to Remind You" 7:04
8. "Red Sky" 7:36
9. "Stranger in Town" 6:11

Personnel:

Pat Metheny – guitars, guitar synthesizer
Lyle Mays – piano, keyboards
Steve Rodby – acoustic and electric bass
Paul Wertico – drums
David Blamires – vocals
Mark Ledford – vocals, trumpet, Flugelhorn, Whistling
Luis Conte – percussion
Sammy Merendino – drum programming
Dave Samuels – cymbal rolls

2 comments:

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  2. Many thanks for your unfailing quality work.

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