In the world of jazz, Pat Metheny is one of those artists by no means content to simply stick to the script. His latest album and first as a solo artist in nine years, From This Place reflects this wholeheartedly. Strings make a debut appearance in Metheny’s discography here courtesy of the Hollywood Studio Symphony, as does the latest iteration of his backing band. Recent albums, such as (<—KIN—>) had seen Metheny working with his Unity Group, putting any other efforts under his name outside of guest features on the back burner until now.
So what about the record? “America Undefined” starts with light bows and easy piano, gradually working up into a full, extensive jazz marathon replete with vivid and suitable guitar work on Metheny’s part. “Wide and Far” expands on this new strings-on-strings formula and conveys a widening, spontaneous energy, while “You Are” diverts focus over to the ivories, a contained blast of powerful, refined dynamics given its moment but never allowed to spill over into pomp and excess. “Same River” presents the most effective blend of strings and swing on the record, as if George Benson’s “Breezin’” and Herbie Hancock’s “Vein Melter” melded into one laid-back, spectacular piece for the new age.
“Pathmaker” continues the chilled symphony meets spontanaeity ease of “Same River” with elements of contemporary jazz and slight inklings of fusion, opening the way for the drummer to get some later in the song. “The Past in Us” strikes far more of a somber note at first, throwing in harmonica over acoustic guitar and dainty, delicate percussion. “Everything Explained” springs forward once more into a slick and active backdrop for trades between Metheny’s guitar work and Gwilym Simcock’s ivory explorations, giving way to the strings once more on “From This Place” and giving Meshell Ndegeocello an opportunity for some well-crafted, ear-pleasing vocals.
“Sixty Six” paints a picture of a coastal sunset, waves gently crashing amidst a dimming pink sky; the soothing strings, plucking bass and prolific snare brushing working in concert to create and maintain the prolific image. In turn, the closer “Love May Take Awhile” borders more on classical at first before launching into a slow, intimate guitar number that increases in orchestration as time goes on and wraps up in pleasant bliss. All in all, it encompasses much of what From This Place repeatedly masters and manifests; that being a creative tension and blending of two different and complex soundscapes into a working machine filled with beautiful depth.