New music by the guitarist and composer Pat Metheny can arrive as unpredictable as a hurricane making landfall. Sometimes it challenges, but it’s often pleasant, like a tropical breeze. In any event, it proves to be exhilarating. As it does here. The pieces that comprise “Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV)” were taken from concerts in September 2019 in New York City, the wild applause a reminder of what was, and what will hopefully be again. Although they’re jazz at the core, each song probes and explores like a being by way of the absolutely astounding musicianship of this trio. As they move through acoustic jazz into electro-tinged orchestration and even rock-based improvisation, their performances amount to technical ecstasy. To top it off, the pristine production of the album conveys the experience of sitting in rapt attention in a small jazz club.
Metheny has been mentoring young, particularly gifted, and up-and-coming jazz players in recent years, much as he was taken under wing by the vibraphone champion Gary Burton and others in his own youth. The moniker Side-Eye represents that allegiance to these forward-thinking players, and to their learning and interpreting Metheny’s music together. The subtitle of this album refers to the first version and fourth incarnation of his revolving door concept, featuring Metheny going to town with James Francies on piano and other keyboards, and Marcus Gilmore on drums.
“Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV)” was sequenced to feel like one of the many great “group” albums that Metheny’s released throughout the last five decades. Moods change constantly, but flow together brilliantly. Three new Metheny compositions are interspersed among four from his prolific catalog of several hundred, including two from his 1975 solo debut, “Bright Size Life.” The cheery “Bright Size Life” and the contemplative “Sirabhorn” are presented with lusters like those of freshly minted coins, their arrangements familiar and welcome, but beaming with new personality. The Ornette Coleman classic “Turnaround” completes the program, a song Metheny first recorded in 1980 on his album “80/81.” Here, it comes off surprisingly accessible; a pure, swinging jazz number with incandescent guitar and piano soloing.
The dual effect Francies achieves throughout the program, seemingly playing piano or organ with one hand and funky bass with the other, is quite something. During the new, album-opening opus “It Starts When We Disappear,” the trio weaves its way through 13 minutes of fast-paced, twisting and turning splendor, sounding as if there are double the amount of players onstage than there are. Metheny offers the first of one of his many signature, ringing solos to the thrill of the audience. Metheny’s bopping “Timeline,” which he first recorded on the late, legendary sax player Michael Brecker’s “Time is of the Essence” album in 1999, appears here sounding fuller, more realized. The new “Lodger” begins as a tick-tock ebbing and flowing of beats. Building a head of steam, it finally cracks the sky with a cacophony of notes and rhythms that are actually melodic, and as progressive in nature as those in a King Crimson number. That the song fits comfortably alongside pure, traditional trio jazz is just one of the many testaments to the genius of Pat Metheny.
- Pat Metheny
‘Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV)’
Label: Modern Recordings/BMG
Release: Sept. 10, 2021