Metheny Group Productions, 2000
REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/19/2009
In my listening experience, I have heard two basic types of small jazz bands, known amongst fans as “combos.” Jazz groups that have between two and four members usually employ either group improvisation (Bill Evans Trio, The Modern Jazz Quartet) or single instrument featuring (The John Coltrane Quartet). While most are not devoid of either style, they tend to emphasize one over the other. Guitarist Pat Metheny’s 2000 album Trio 99-00 is an example of the latter, which is unique for a group that consists of all rhythm section instruments. Containing Larry Grenadier on bass and Bill Stewart on drums, having a trio that features a guitarist allows for much inventive, if sometimes overly ambitious, guitar work.
Trio 99-00 showcases Metheny’s wide range as a musician. As an arranger, Metheny’s ear for movement and subtlety shines on his Brazilian version of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps.” Playing “Giant Steps” as a bossa nova allows Metheny and his crew to illuminate its melodic and harmonic beauty. Although Metheny and Grenadier’s solos are rhythmically rich and melodically fascinating, the appeal of the song lies in its natural-sounding groove and Metheny’s soft approach on the electric guitar.
Contrast this with “What Do You Want?,” an upbeat, celebratory original of Metheny’s. “What Do You Want?” has an infectious melody and a feel-good vibe, heightened by one of the most devilishly clever guitar solos I have heard. Plus, Bill Stewart creates an enigmatic Art Blakey-ish toe-tapping drum part that culminates in a short yet poignant solo.
The danger of small group jazz is that, in the spirit of improvisation, they occasionally create overdrawn renditions. Pat Metheny and his Trio fall into this trap on “Soul Cowboy” and “Capricorn.” Do not mistake me – these songs are still listenable, just not as exciting or engaging as they could be. Their melodies are not memorable, their arrangements are musically verbose and their solos are too lengthy. Still, these do not detract from the true gems of the album: “Just Like the Day,” “The Sun In Montreal” and “Travels.” These acoustic guitar tracks are abundant with melody, arrangement, harmony, technical proficiency and emotion (every jazz musician’s goal). The best of these is “Travels.” With its sweeping guitar chords and bittersweet melody, “Travels” expresses both the freedom and loneliness of the constant traveler. Conjuring visions of the wandering minstrel or the constant road warrior, this track is like a musical version of Kerouac or Homer. The joys of frequent travel, as vibrant as they may be, are matched by an equally strong sense of longing. “Travels” captures this perfectly. The song is a wonderful summation of this album.
With Trio 99-00, Metheny takes his listeners on a joyful, reflective, sometimes testing but ultimately satisfying journey.