The Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up LiveOverview -
Filmed in late 2005, "The Way Up Live" features the full concert version of the Pat Metheny Group's most recent album "The Way Up", which earned the band their 10th Grammy Award and Metheny personally his 17th.
Storyline: Our Reviewer's Take
Made famous in the late '70s, Pat Metheny has built a reputation for being a constant innovator in his subgenre of jazz fusion. With the inception of The Pat Metheny Group, he established an appetite for perfection that's never been quenched. Several members have come and gone, but two things have remained constant -- Pat Metheny on the guitar and Lyle Mays on the keys. The two have been recording together since Metheny's second album, "Watercolors," and their improvisation is a display of both mastery and experience.
Over the course of thirteen albums, The Pat Metheny Group has gained a following of loyal fans. However, the release of "The Way Up" in 2005 split those fans into two camps -- people intrigued by the extremes to which Metheny was exploring progressive jazz, and people who were annoyed. Some longtime fans felt betrayed by the band's apparent stylistic departure and message boards were packed with messages, illustrating the mixed reactions. Interestingly enough, as it stands on its own, "The Way Up" is more akin to a classical masterpiece composed with jazz stylings than anything else. It's this defiance of expectations that drew outrage from fans, but that's also exactly what sets Pat Metheny apart from other musicians who only deliver what's expected.
The 'Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up Live' is a high-def release of a concert recorded in Seoul, Korea during the band's latest tour. Metheny and Mays are joined by Steve Rodby on bass, Cuong Vu on trumpet, Antonio Sanchez on percussion, and Gregoire Maret on harmonica and other assorted instruments. Rounding out the artists is guest performer Nando Lauria who sings, plays guitar, and tackles other instruments as well.
The symphonic performance is tough to categorize sincee there aren't any songs per se. Like the studio album, the concert is actually a continuous instrumental movement, divided only by name ("Opening," "Part One," "Part Two," and "Part Three"). That being said, the music is so engaging and dynamic that it held my attention throughout. Not everyone will be pleased -- some music fans will find the lack of melodic structure a turn off, and it does take a bit of patience to enjoy the performance in the way Metheny intends. Jazz junkies will also have a hit-or-miss relationship with 'The Way Up: Live' because it stretches conventional jazz to the near-breaking point. Improvisation is merely the fuel behind something more organic and evolutionary -- although I'm not sure I enjoyed where this evolution took me. Metheny fans, particuarly those who loved the original album, will be right at home as the band continues along down the pathway they've been traveling since the mid-eighties.
Metheny makes his way through a variety of guitars throughout the performance and really seems to sink deep into the music. The musicians are all engaging, with the only major downside (for those already enjoying the music) coming from the fact that the concert isn't visually striking. Band members are usually flooded by one tone of light that occasionally shifts color and there isn't much to keep an audience interested if they're not completely sold on the band's sound.
All in all, 'Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up Live' is a great concert disc for fans of Metheny, jazz fusion, or progressive instrumental music. For the uninitiated, it's an intriguing performance that will at least give you something to think about. To be fair though, this sort of concert isn't for general music fans, so tread carefully if you're not sure of what to expect.
Presented in 1080p with the MPEG-2 codec, 'The Way Up Live' is technically sound, but unimpressive for the most part. To its credit, black levels are nice, colors are vibrant, and fine object detail is well rendered. Stubble and hair are crisp, edges are sharp, and facial details like pores and freckles are easily seen. The source itself is devoid of noise and even the darkest corners avoid troublesome crush issues. Contrast levels are very dramatic and I was impressed with the three-dimensional illusion of the image overall.
My biggest issue with this transfer is that there isn't a lot going on to put the picture to a real test. The musicians are static for the most part, lighting is single toned, and the stark colors don't leave a lot of room for proper shadow delineation. There aren't any moments that have an impact and the visuals amount to little more than a technically solid bore. For those of you unsure of which version to chose, there is no discernable difference between the picture quality of the HD DVD and Blu-ray editions of this release.
This release features three audio tracks -- a well rounded Dolby Digital-Plus 5.1 mix, a less than stellar compressed DTS-HD mix, and an uncompressed LPCM 2.0 stereo mix -- and these selections provide a lot of great sound. However, no single audio option provides the best of all worlds. As usual, I can't wrap my head around why concert discs like this one avoid uncompressed 5.1 surround tracks that have the soundfield ambiance of a Dolby mix and the pitch-perfect clarity of a Master Audio track. As it stands, the concert atmosphere is best reproduced by the Dolby 5.1 mix and the song quality is best preserved in the front-heavy stereo mix. I found myself flipping back and forth in an attempt to fake it, but I only grew frustrated and distracted.
A mix of the two would've made me contemplate a perfect audio rating. The acoustics and soundfield immersion on the Dolby surround mix is wonderful -- crowd noise and echoes loft from the rear speakers across the channels as the music dominates the stage ahead. On the flip side, the guitar and piano notes are gloriously stable on the uncompressed track -- treble tones are crisp, bass tones have more presence, and the mix boasts an astounding dynamic range that brings the music to life. On both of these tracks, the instrumentation is expertly prioritized and Metheny's guitars don't dominate the day (as one might expect from a man whose name is central to the band's identity).
Pick your poison -- concert fans will enjoy the liveliness of the Dolby surround mix and music enthusiasts will adore the clarity of the uncompressed stereo track. If you want both, you'll have to settle on one or the other. For the most part, avoid the DTS-HD mix altogether because the HD label is a bit of a misnomer. The sound seemed slightly muddled and was more what I'd expect from a standard DVD sound package.
The lone featurette on this high-def release is also available on the standard DVD, but here it's presented in a lovely 1080p. It features a twenty-two minute interview with Pat Metheny -- an introspective, thoughtful, and engaging man in person who really understands his craft and his music. I would highly recommend this featurette to anyone, even those who didn't enjoy the band's fusion performance. Metheny discusses the history of the band, old and new friendships, the changing times, and the evolution of his music. It really seemed as if he was enjoying the chance to chat with fans and makes it clear that he feels ecstatic to play jazz for a living.
The Pat Metheny Group isn't for everyone -- they provide a challenging blend of progressive and fusion jazz that's more concerned with defying convention than creating exquisite melodies. 'Pat Metheny Group: The Way Up Live' doesn't drift far from the audio CD so Metheny fans should base their judgment of purchasing this disc on their love or hate of that single album. Those new to Metheny should give him a try, but know that it takes a very specific taste to enjoy this sort of music. The video is technically solid but simplistic, the one excellent supplement isn't enough to keep you around, and the concert itself is a tough slog if you don't enjoy it right away. However, the audio quality is top notch -- I just wish the disc had an uncompressed surround mix instead of forcing me to chose between the live atmosphere and the music itself.
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