It takes time to come to terms with a CD. My average is three listens, although it varies with the musics complexity. With the world running at hyperspeed these days, that can be a challenging investment.
Pat Methenys new CD Day Trip is in the rapidly-shrinking category of discs I actually bought on the day of release, but it almost fell into the somewhat larger file and forget classification. This was a bit startling. As some previous articles on mine on the site attest, I have spent a lot of time listening to Metheny. He has a firm grasp on each of what I think are the three primary elements of modern music (composition, improvisation and production) and has been fortunate enough to have built a career and developed these three abilities, so I find his music a worthy object of study. Plus, since I am also a Midwesterner with an interest in both jazz and rock, his vision resonates.
So why didnt Day Trip connect at first? One issue is the unofficial/official recording syndrome, which I first experienced with Phish around the time of Billy Breathes. When you have access to many different versions of an artists music, the official release becomes simply one version, not the version. And, in some cases, while the official release may reflect the artists vision for his music, you may have developed a different vision.
A related issue is familiarity. In the compositions, and especially in the soloing, Day Trip seems to largely retrace familiar terrain for Metheny. Sometimes this can be fine, but in this case, other iterations of the ideas have been more exciting. Methenys accompanists, bassist Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez, are undeniably top-class players, but, at least in this setting, all three players tend towards a dry virtuosity. Others (such as bassist Charlie Haden and drummers Roy Haynes or Bill Stewart) had a livelier exchange with Metheny on his trio discs.
Still, I decided to give this disc more of a shot. For this kind of CD, coming to terms with it involves mapping out song forms. Otherwise, it all passes by in a blur, like a comedy routine about someone you dont know. So this means counting bars, trying to memorize chord progressions and hitting the replay button multiple times.
Most of Methenys pieces on Day Trip have a calm surface, but wander some distance past the 12 or 32 bar routine jazz structures. For instance, the opener, Son Of Thirteen, comes in at 88 bars (if I follow it correctly). After making sense of the structure, one can move on to Methenys negotiation of the terrain during his solos, or concentrate on how Sanchez manages to sound like a hand drummer while using sticks, or consider how McBride deals with the daunting task of making bass solos interesting. The appeal is a bit like mastering a mathematic trick.
One track, Calvins Keys, starts out as the most innocuous blues. Then there is a bridge that veers into Giant Steps terrain. Its a good example of Methenys approach of hiding complexity under a placid surface. Another intriguing gesture comes with Is This America?, which protests Katrina while presenting the simplest tune on the disc a surprise for a composer who broke new ground in complexity-as-protest a few years back with a 70-minute piece (_The Way Up_).
Overall, though, the writing doesnt hit the extreme poles of either simplicity or complexity. Instead, its Metheny music, with the usual hallmarks the samba rhythms, the pastoral acoustic ballads, the outbreak of guitar synthesizer at the climax of When We Were Free. It says what he means to say, but doesnt add much to what he has said on other discs. On the other hand, his ability to create his own musical identity cant be taken for granted.
Im glad to have taken the time to understand the pieces. But I suspect this CD will be filed and brought out again in a few months when another temporary slowdown arrives.