Pat Metheny’s music has always contained a certain spaciousness, perhaps hinting at his Midwestern origins. Same goes for his melodies and solos, which are frequently given to soaring over rhythm-section grooves that are sometimes tranquil, sometimes turbulent. All of those elements are present on “America Undefined,” the 13-minute opening track on Metheny’s latest release, From This Place
. The guitarist and his most recent touring group — longtime drummer Antonio Sanchez, pianist Gwilym Simcock and bassist Linda May Han Oh — are joined by the Hollywood Studio Symphony. Metheny’s laid-back, searching lines are countered by fluttering piano and bass figures, all enhanced by strings before making way for piano and guitar improvisations and later opening up for grander orchestral gestures. The piece settles into a minor-toned chill-down section, strafed with various sound effects — chugging trains, bells, distant voices — and moves forward on pulsing bass before offering a furious crescendo and a final round of stray-sounds cacophony.
It’s an audacious start to a collection of compositions that benefit from arrangements by Alan Broadbent and Gil Goldstein alternately. Metheny and his collaborators deploy a wide range of textures and colors. “You Are” opens with crystalline piano, which is joined by chiming guitar, the hypnotic rhythms building to great intensity before ending as it began. Oh’s bluesy upright-bass figure lays the groundwork for “Same River,” which features an extended synth-guitar outing. The jaunty “Pathmaker” offers some creative bars-trading with Sanchez. And the pretty “The Past in Us” has Metheny’s nylon-string guitar sparring with the soulful ministrations of harmonica virtuoso Gregoire Maret. The disc closes with the gorgeous ballad “Love May Take a While.”
Metheny nods to our current political maelstrom with “From This Place,” its melody written on the heels of the 2016 U.S. presidential election, with Meshell Ndegeocello singing lyrics written by her partner, Alison Riley. As the guitarist suggests in the liner notes, music can transcend even the most troubling circumstances. I’d contend that Metheny’s work has just that power. — Philip Booth