As I'm listening to the follow-up to this album at the moment, courtesy of Rob, now seems a good time to post this review.
I initially approached the CD with some caution, knowing very little of Mehldau other than his gigantic reputation, and seeing Metheny as a bit of a mixed bag at best. I was won over by their sheer artistry in no time.
Thanks to my man in Canada, Gregg Brennan, who sent me the complete Mehldau discography, I've since gone on to enjoy much more of the pianist's tasteful work. As for Metheny, was he ever better than on 'Bright Size Life' (1976)?
PAT METHENY & BRAD MEHLDAU
Unrequited; Ahmid-6; Summer Day; Ring Of Life; Legend; Find Me In Your Dreams; Say The Brother's Name; Bachelor's III; Annie's Bittersweet Cake; Make Peace.
Pat Metheny (g); Brad Mehldau (p); plus on tracks 4 and 7 Larry Grenadier (b); Jeff Ballard (d).
Recorded December 2005.
The rise of Brad Mehldau largely passed me by, perhaps because piano isn't my favourite instrument. Over the last eighteen months I've had increasing exposure to his work, and can now say I'm as impressed by his utterly compelling voice as the next man. Pat Metheny is more problematic however, and I've never really had much affinity with his centreless tendencies, veering between aural slush and harsh noise. That said, I can think of a handful of Metheny recordings I wouldn't be without, and happily for the task in hand, this is one of them.
'Metheny Mehldau' shares much with Bill Evans and Jim Hall's classic 'Undercurrents' (Blue Note), a rare occasion when the guitar/piano duo transcends a potentially awkward instrumental pairing. Opening with 'Unrequited', an wistful pastel piece infused with melancholia, it's clear neither man is here to grandstand, and both are immersed in a concentrated dialogue. The more upbeat 'Ahmid-6' would have made a more obvious opener, and Metheny is particularly fleet of finger on this piece. Yet this is not a collaboration that seeks instant listener gratification, unless studied introspection is your bag. Two tracks with Mehldau's trio release some of the tension of the duos and suggest natural possibilities for a more extrovert follow-up. 'Ring of Life' has a thrilling Mehldau solo, which is followed by a slab of the tortured Metheny guitar-synth I so dislike, and miraculously not even this taste-lapse can tarnish the disc's integrity.
To my ears the best music of the collaboration are the three pieces which follow the second quartet track, 'Say The Brother's Name'. 'Bachelor's III' has soul-jazz roots, whilst 'Annie's Bittersweet Cake' takes a walk through a lush harmonic colour-field. The closing 'Make Peace', a rhapsodic minor blues variation, has some of Mehldau's most inventive playing of the date, his effortless control of dynamics echoing Jarrett at his best, and sealing it as the choice cut. There's no doubt that 'Metheny Mehldau' will be a top-seller, and even if I disliked it few people would be dissuaded from buying it. Perhaps not a disc for every mood, but as an example of simpatico dialogue and intuitive musical understanding, this is a disc I can endorse with true conviction.
(Jazz Review, November 2006)