Released: 21st Feb 2020; Reviewed 22nd Feb 2020
From the label’s (Nonesuch) website:
“Pat Metheny’s new album, From This Place, will be released on Nonesuch Records on February 21, 2020. The record features ten compositions by Metheny, who is joined by his long-time drummer, Antonio Sanchez, Malaysian/Australian bassist Linda May Han Oh, and British pianist Gwilym Simcock as well as the Hollywood Studio Symphony conducted by Joel McNeely. Meshell Ndegeocello(vocals), Gregoire Maret (harmonica), and Luis Conte (percussion) are special guests on From This Place, Metheny’s first album of new material since 2014’s Kin (←→). Metheny, Simcock, Oh, and Sanchez begin an extensive international tour in the New Year.
‘From This Place is one of the records I have been waiting to make my whole life,’ Metheny says. ‘It is a kind of musical culmination, reflecting a wide range of expressions that have interested me over the years, scaled across a large canvas, presented in a way that offers the kind of opportunities for communication that can only be earned with a group of musicians who have spent hundreds of nights together on the bandstand.’
Over the course of more than three decades, guitarist Pat Metheny has set himself apart from the jazz mainstream, expanding and blurring boundaries and musical styles. His record-setting body of work includes twenty Grammy Awards in twelve separate categories and in an amazing streak was the only bandleader to win Grammy Awards for seven consecutive releases; a series of influential trio recordings; award-winning solo albums; scores for hit Hollywood motion pictures; and collaborations and duets with major artists like Ornette Coleman, Steve Reich, Charlie Haden, Brad Mehldau, and many others.”
Take a listen at the official YouTube channel:
Badger “First Listen Review” 22nd February 2020
Mr Badger says – These are the thoughts that came to mind as I listened to the album for the very first time, written as the album played. Even now, as I publish these thoughts on this website, I am listening again to the album and my feelings are changing – as they so often do as you start to become familiar with a new album.
My overall thoughts are that if you have enjoyed earlier albums from Pat Metheny and particularly the Pat Metheny Group, you will enjoy this album. If you are new to Metheny, this is a very accessible collection of compositions – I’ll probably be hung out to dry with this comment but I would describe the overall feel as very pleasant Jazz FM “dinner jazz” feel to the casual listener but has a lot more depth to be discovered for those that want to listen in detail.
1. America Undefined
A quiet, gentle start to the album with Pat’s very recognisable guitar sound intertwining with piano soon breaks into a more rhythmic style – reminiscent, perhaps of parts of “The Way Up” but with additional strings. This then breaks down into the piano stylings of Gwilym Simcock- an accomplished pianist who brings a different style to the group compared to Lyle Myles – perhaps leaning more towards mainstream jazz piano than Lyle.
The incredible Antonio Sanchez sits behind all of this with some quite complex drumming going on, which manages to stay sympathetic to the lead lines (as he always does) – it is almost possible to not notice him there in the mix because he is so tasteful, but you’d soon miss him if he wasn’t there or if someone else was sitting in his place.
This track alternates between the gentle and a faster rhythmic pace, but doesn’t ever really “get going” – not having yet heard the rest of the album, could it be a bit of an overture introduction? It’s certainly a decent length at over 13 minutes.
At the two-thirds way through the track mark, I am getting reminiscences of parts of the Pat’s powerful “Secret Story” album – which is no bad thing. And now we’re getting a powerful symphonic straight ahead rhythmic build up towards the end of the track which then disassembles itself and ends with a small string section wrapping things up
2. Wide and Far
A more straight forward start to this one. The drums again laying down some nice interesting rhythms for Pat to state the melody. Symphonic strings are reinforcing the unmistakable Metheny chord structure. It continues in a similar vein and doesn’t disappoint as a straight forward typical Metheny track. This is not a criticism, it means if you like “mainstream Metheny” then you will like this. It is differentiatable (if that is a word) from other similar tracks by the increased orchestration used, and the Hollywood Studio Symphony do a fine job of realising these orchestrations.
Some nice bass playing from Linda May Han Oh at the low key, almost fade out ending.
3. You Are
An atmospheric start from the piano. Are we in store for one of Pat’s gut wrenching ballads? Pat’s guitar joins, and then the bass. A lovely, building, hypnotic track giving the listener the feeling that something big is on it’s way. As so often with Pat, the repeating motif builds and builds, getting more complex and textural, with the tension growing. I do hope there is a big release on it’s way. Sadly, the track starts simplifying and quietening down, and ends with a return to the piano start. A good track but no real climax, more a felling of climbing up and down a small hill rather than up a mountain with a stunning view to experience at the top.
4. Same River
The album continues with this very pleasant track. A medium tempo, rhythmic, almost pop like track. Listening to this, I feel the warm comfort of memories of the Pat Metheny Group at it’s best. It’s not the same, but similar enough to bring back happy memories. Ironically, it’s almost sad because it makes you remember that the PMG with Lyle Mays is now gone forever.
A disappointing fade out to this track – it is probably just a case of personal taste, but I do prefer “proper” endings.
An up-tempo start to this one. Again, very recognisable as Pat. Half way through the album now, and I am now understanding Pat’s comment “It is a kind of musical culmination, reflecting a wide range of expressions that have interested me over the years”. It would be easy to fall into the trap of saying that this is not a ground-breaking album that explores musical possibilities and challenges the listener to go wit Pat into a different world. No, this album appears to be more like a “greatest hits” album with the twist being that all of the tracks are new. It is a celebration of the Metheny that is accessible and joyous, rather than, perhaps, appealing to the more hard-core fan. The group feels and sound like they have been around for years, and that this is a recording made at the end of a tour as opposed at the start. This is a band that feels like it would be smiling on stage, enjoying the music.
6. The Past In Us
A ballad with piano and strings to start. A chance for Gwilym to express himself freely. This is then taken up by Pat’s guitar and Gregoire Maret’s harmonica. If you enjoyed Pat’s recordings with Toots Thieleman, you will like this. And, of course, you should remember Gregoire’s harmonica playing from PMG “The Way Up” album and tour.
7. Everything Explained
A melodic up-tempo track led by Metheny’s guitar. Nice to hear some “First Circle” type (but much simpler!) clapping in the background. Another straight ahead track. A nice piano breakout with percussion interplay and hints of the classical in the middle. This makes a nice contrast to the previous tracks, and wakes you up from the trap of thinking that this was all getting too predictable.
8. From This Place
A sombre orchestral start, followed by a gorgeous multi-tracked vocal from Meshell Ndegeocello. I heard a hint of McCartney type harmonies there which further goes to varying the album soundscape. This one could easily find itself in my top ten list of ballads when I have heard it a few more times. I almost replayed it immediately, but stopped myself because it would have affected the “first listen” review.
9. Sixty Six
My first impression is of a “Last Train Home” bed with a more melodic tune, which is taken up by the bass after the first guitar statement.
10. Love May Take A While
And here we go with the last track. A beautiful retro start from the Orchestra. Continuing with Pat’s beautiful playing – this has the feeling as being one of his legendary ballads like “Always and Forever”, but with a feeling of a 50’s orchestration. I could imagine a Nat King Cole vocal appearing out of the mist.
And now for an interesting observation:
I was using iTunes to list to this album, and after the last track finished, the next album that played automatically was the eponymous “Lyle Mays”. Sonically, it was a very smooth transition, and this perhaps gives a flavour as to the sound of “From This Place”.