Album reviews

Pat Metheny – ‘Dream Box’

Pat Metheny – Dream Box

(Modern Recordings/ BMG. Album review by Simon Lasky)

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Throughout his career Metheny has interspersed his large ensemble projects with occasional solo or duo recordings. This album is more substantial than both 2003’s ‘One Quiet Night’ and 2011’s ‘What’s It All About’ (both solo recordings). The source material is also fascinating; while on tour Metheny recently came across a folder on his hard drive which had laid dormant for years. ‘Dream Box’ is a collection of his 9 favourite tracks, hand-picked by the composer, from around 80 newly unearthed gems.

Focusing on electric guitar, but with other guitar colours overdubbed, Metheny executes a two-step recording process whereby he initially lays down a harmonic framework. Then, he has another pass, effectively soloing over his own chordal support. Consequently, there is a density to the sound which will benefit from listening on a good pair of speakers or headphones.

In such a pared down setting, it’s fascinating to be able to isolate aspects of Metheny’s musicianship which are more exposed here than in large ensemble contexts. For example, his delivery of the head on Luiz Bonfa’s ‘Morning of The Carnival’ reveals his subtle approach to time – an intuitive ability to dance just either side of the beat – which makes his playing so captivating.

It’s hard to imagine a more satisfying, and better balanced, five minutes of music than the album opener – ‘The Waves Are Not The Ocean’. Ignoring many structural conventions, and removing any superfluous notes or gestures, the composition contains a melody which you never want to end. Like a garment with no thread out of place, the piece feels like a perfect distillation of Metheny’s artistry.

The rhapsodic ‘From The Mountains’ sees Metheny ambitiously working through distinctive harmonic guitar shapes and motives in a piece which never quite ‘settles’ – it never finds home. Each time you think you’re approaching a semi familiar cadence, you’re immediately taken off in another direction. The lack of resolution provides for a compelling listen.

‘Ole and Gard’ is so distinctively Metheny-esque that you think you’ve heard it before! It sounds like a classic PMG tune from yesteryear.

Other covers include the ballad ‘I Fall In Love Too Easily’ and an interpretation of an obscure 1980’s Yacht Rock song ‘Never Was Love’, which somehow made its way into Metheny’s orbit! It explores similar minor tonalities to ‘Morning of The Carnival’, so I’m not convinced the set needed this. (We would all love to hear Pat stretching out, in a solo context, on some of the 1970’s Jarrett material which he recently expressed such admiration for in his Rick Beato interview). However, this is definitely a case of the cover being better than the original!

The closer – ‘Clouds Can’t Change The Sky’ – perhaps, more than any of the other tracks, demonstrates just what it is about his compositions which elevate them from good to great. As the piece unfolds Metheny makes just enough harmonic and melodic decisions which side step the listeners’ expectations and – for those who are prepared to listen carefully enough – create intrigue and beauty. Angular chords and dissonance, paired with the guitarists’ legendary lyrical gifts, make for a formidable listening experience.

Detractors will point to the album’s lack of variety in tempi and mood. They are correct, but so many successful albums are based precisely on that premise: Think of Evans’ ‘You Must Believe In Spring’, Madeleine Peyroux’s debut release or Metheny’s own duo record with Charlie Haden, ‘Beyond The Missouri Sky’. Take ‘Dream Box’ on its own terms, listen deeply, and the album will reveal new corners and nuances with each listen

LINKS: Album interview with Pat Metheny

Buy Dream Box

Categories: Album reviews, Reviews

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