Now well into its gliding Brazilian-tinged mode, the Pat Metheny Group hits the road, as this two-CD set catches the band live in Dallas, Philadelphia, Hartford, Sacramento, and Nacogdoches, TX. Percussionist Naná Vasconcelos is still listed as a "special guest," but ever since Wichita Falls, he had not only been a part of the group, he was the transforming element in the Metheny "sound," adding his various shakers, effects and ethereal vocals. Sidekick Lyle Mays gets deeper into floating, glistening synthesizer textures, but he is still able to take formidable and touching solos on acoustic grand piano. Still experimenting with new hardware, Metheny's work on a detuned guitar synthesizer gives the live "As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls" an exotic Balinese-like sound.
There's a bit of a role reversal going on with this one. Trumpeter Cuong Vu—a Pat Metheny devotee from the time he first heard the guitarist's Travels (ECM, 1983) as a teenager—eventually came to join the Pat Metheny Group, enhancing the sound of the band on a pair of Grammy-winning albums: Speaking Of Now (Warner Bros. 2002) and The Way Up (Nonesuch, 2005). Now Metheny returns the favor, joining Vu's crew for this expansive outing.
Like the echo of a grand landscape, Metheny and Mays create an atmospheric meditation on traveling across the great open expanse of America As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls. By turns introspective and hymn-like, soaring and transcendent, the music resonates with a rural spirit, to which the Brazilian percussion of Nana Vasconcelos brings a more universal feel. Both "It's For You" and the epic title track evoke sonic vistas that touch a nerve with their layered keyboards and guitars. "Ozark" is a dynamic track featuring piano propelled by gentle percussion, while "September Fifteenth" is a quiet and deeply moving dedication to pianist Bill Evans. "Estupenda Graca" is like a gentle prayer sung both as closure, and in anticipation of the travels to come.
When Metheny celebrates his cerebral side, he usually follows up with something more accessible. After his difficult yet rewarding collaboration with John Scofield, I Can See Your House from Here, Metheny stresses accessibility with this captivating live album. The primary focus is on his Brazilian-influenced material from Still Life (Talking) and Letter from Home, and the very cohesive Pat Metheny Group offers characteristically expressive versions of such favorites as "Have You Heard," "Beat 70," and "Better Days Ahead." While he could have offered a wider variety of material and perhaps revisited some of his early gems, everything that he does include comes across as honest and heartfelt. Thankfully, Metheny's emphasis on accessibility and crowd-pleasing doesn't come at the expense of his artistic integrity.