|Review: Pat Metheny and Brad Mehldau
No one manipulates time and space like a jazz player. Jazz in the hands of guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau, however, becomes something more akin to musical quantum mechanics.
The neo-jazz duo, paired with Mehldau's longtime bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, shared their mutual admiration and modern jazz at the Newmark Theatre last Friday night as an extenuation of the Rose City's growing Portland Jazz Festival series.
To the delight of the enthusiastic and nearly sell-out crowd at the intimate Newmark, festival promoter Bill Royston announced that the historically month-long winter event (begun in February 2004 and held at various Portland venues), would extend throughout the year, "Doing good jazz year-round," he offered to wild applause.
That extension couldn't have begun with a hotter jazz quartet. Metheny, now an old lion of jazz at age 52 (and not looking a day over 19 in his signature striped surfer shirt, jeans, running shoes and unruly mane), has done much to push the jazz genre forward. A tireless tourer, composer, master guitarist, and outspoken jazz proponent, Metheny, no matter the project, is always at the top of his game.
No less so Friday night. Switching among his fat-bodied Ibanez jazz guitar, acoustic guitar, his affectionately titled "Pikasso guitar" of multi-necks and 42 strings, and synth-guitar, Metheny's astounding string technique constantly expanded sonic barriers - including speed, acoustic properties and human emotion - propelling the quartet to heights perhaps even they never knew they could reach.
Mehldau, a younger gun on the jazz scene at 37, was a nearly polar opposite of Metheny. Where Metheny is constantly buoyant, upbeat and smiling, Mehldau, was brooding, contemplative and almost tortured as he explored every harmonic and melodic possibility within each tune.
Make no mistake. Though more introspective, his skill and technique were mature and fully formed well beyond his years. He enjoys a monstrous left hand, able to cop huge bass chords, but also able to leap to higher registers in a cross-over hand technique he used often, along with unison left-hand/right-hand runs of powerful beauty.
But it was his sonic explorations that dropped jaws. He could summon power when he needed to, but preferred to float in and among the harmonies and melodies.
The pair together were of one, super-human mind, exploring music almost at the sub-atomic level. Opening the show as a duo, the meter-perfect pair played three cuts from their first CD from 2006, "Metheny Mehldau." The achingly sweet "Unrequited," and the intense "Annie's Bittersweet Cake" featured Metheny's soaring glissando runs and blinding descending arpeggios, and Mehldau's deft and tender comping.
Metheny's "Make Peace" was at once discordant and suspended - bitter and sweet, tension and release. All three of those pieces showed absolutely masterful interplay among two jazz giants.
The pair were joined by Mehldau regulars Grenadier and Ballard, both young, both vibrant and both exhibiting technique and feel that pushed both convention and musical passion. Each soloed throughout the evening, to the delight of Metheny, Mehldau and us, as well as fueled the underlying theme and meditation of each song.
Covering the spectrum from bop to blues to freeform to the almost unbearably and achingly melodic, this quartet was, like a raging storm and its eerily serene aftermath, a force of nature.