Abandon expectations, forget everything you already know, come to the table with no preconceptions and ears wide open. Just listen. A lot of reviewers and fans have said that The Way Up is for the hard core "Metheniacs" or elite jazzers who can understand and analyze the complexity of this music. From another perspective if you just put this CD on and let it play, you will be totally taken with it. Just let it play rather than forcing yourself to listen closely or analytically, and you will want to hear it again and again as repeated listening draws you further into the music. Then it will become what it is, which is simply transcendent. It seems to me that we are all "wired" to connect with certain elements of music that are specific to each individual: a note, a chord, a solo or melody line that for some reason just lights you up. Pat Metheny’s music has always had these elements, which may explain why his appeal is much wider than that of other artists who play similar music. With PMG the complexity and the dazzling musicianship have become such a natural and uncontrived element of the music that the focus shifts to the music itself, the expressiveness of the players and the instruments rather than the technique with which it is played.
The Way Up is a piece of music that is not limited by the boundaries of song and genre, which leaves the listener unthethered by conventional reference points. It is one 68-minute song. Composition may be the more appropriate description but "song" sounds less intimidating, more appropriate for this purpose. It is divided into four tracks so listeners can start or stop at a given segment of the music, but it is a single composition. This music is not genre specific either. While some artists bring in the flavor of multiple genres to specific songs PMG has always played music rather than genre, and that is most apparent here as the music transitions between jazz, rock/fusion, and iridescently beautiful melodic passages that defy categorization.
In a way this is a synthesis and an expansion of everything that PMG, specifically Metheny and co-composer keyboardist Lyle Mays, have done since they began recording in 1977. A lot of the foundations of this composition are expansions of themes that were present in other PMG CDs. Haunting melodies from Secret Story and Still Life (talking), searing guitar improvisations from Question and Answer, hard and edgy rock solos and electronic music that started to show up on Imaginary Day, and at times, the pristine simplicity of One Quiet Night. Metheny plays a number of different guitars, acoustic, electric, fuzz tone, and multi-string/multi-tuning configurations he has created. Solo and layered guitar passages weave through a framework of melodies and textures that are the foundation for the composition, the places where the music always returns. The fact that this music can go from minimal to dense, layered and multi-rhythmic to minimal, improvisational to structured and melodic so seamlessly is the major accomplishment of this work. Segments that would be jarring in lesser hands flow naturally here.
Generally it has been suggested that listeners who are new to PMG start with the more traditionally structured CDs such as Letter From Home and Still Life (talking) because The Way Up may be too challenging for a new listener. On the other hand, hearing music that does not sound like anything you have heard before and does not have reference points associated with other things you listen to brings a sense of freedom and the opportunity to be centered in the present. Think of a cold body of water on a hot summer day. To get the full reward you don’t wade in slowly, you close your eyes and take the leap. Leap into this one, it will be worth it.
- Shannon West