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Pat Metheny – From This Place

February 23, 2020

I can’t listen to this new Pat Metheny album without thinking of Metheny’s long time collaborator Lyle Mays who recently passed away.  From This Place is a guitar, piano and orchestra album. These last two features were the kind of contributions Lyle Mays typically made as keyboardist, composer and arranger in the Pat Metheny Group. Although this album’s creation predates Mays’ passing, I choose to savor it in Mays’ memory. Fortunately for us and in remembrance of Mays, From This Place is an extraordinary album.

The core musicians on the album besides Metheny, are long time Metheny drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Linda May Han Oh, and pianist  Gwilym Simcock. In addition, there is the Hollywood Studio Symphony conducted by Joel McNeely.

The addition of an orchestra is not an insignificant sweetener, it is core to the songs on From This Place. Adding an orchestra in jazz is dicey. In the wrong hands, it can distract or come across as a hackneyed attempt to make the music easier to digest. But in the right hands, it is an organic and essential component. With Metheny, the orchestra is in the right hands. This is not a surprise given Metheny’s experience with synthesizers and his Orchestrion projects. Metheny’s work has always been highly orchestrated, this album just uses a conventional symphony orchestra instead of automated constructs.

Metheny is from the American Midwest and over his career he has created many sonic love letters to the land he loves. But as we all know, there is trouble in paradise. Metheny signals his concern right off the bat with the album cover: our beautiful land is being attacked by a native predator: a twister.

The opening track is not subtle in title or content. “America Undefined” is the sonic equivalent of the album cover art. It starts out gentle and quiet, evolves into a complex beauty and ends violently. It is a fascinating instrumental editorial.

The content of the titular track is best expressed in Metheny’s own words from his website:

“On November 8, 2016, our country shamefully revealed a side of itself to the world that had mostly been hidden from view in its recent history. I wrote the piece From This Place in the early morning hours the next day as the results of the election became sadly evident.”

The song (it is more of a hymn) feature words by Alison Riley and vocals from her partner Meshell Ndegeocello. Per Metheny the words:

“…captured exactly the feeling of that tragic moment while reaffirming the hope of better days ahead.”

Although the album has a political context, I don’t think that over time it will be dated. Again Metheny’s words:

“Music continually reveals itself to be ultimately and somewhat oddly impervious to the ups and downs of the transient details that may even have played a part in its birth. Music retains its nature and spirit even as the culture that forms it fades away, much like the dirt that creates the pressure around a diamond is long forgotten as the diamond shines on.

I hope this record might stand as a testament to my ongoing aspiration to honor those values.”

Metheny is his usual phenomenal self. Sanchez and Han Oh are tasteful accompanists. I have not heard Simcock before and he is a star. He is a perfect foil to Metheny. In addition, Gregoire Maret (harmonica), and Luis Conte (percussion) make essential guest appearances.

Metheny’s work is always complex. At first taste, it is always delicious and easy to enjoy. But if you dig in, there is a richness and sophistication that rewards your effort. I am in the first taste stage of From This Place and I am confident that it is going to be a rewarding rabbit hole over the next several months. Metheny has never made a bad album, but this one stands out as a special masterpiece in his catalog. I may be forced to write a follow-up review after I have fully digested this album in a few months.

From → Music Reviews

2 Comments
  1. Just gave it a listen. Definitely more listens to come. You’re right about the use of the orchestra

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Brief Reflections on ‘From This Place’: Pat Metheny’s Stunning New Album | Variations on a Theme

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