Some musicians consistently put out work of such professional quality that excellence becomes routine. Such is the case for Pat Metheny, whose new live album Side-Eye NYC (V1.IV) features stellar performances and compositions, as expected. However, it also presents an invigorating, dynamic evening of old and new music in a new format – a trio with drums (Marcus Gilmore) and keyboard (James Francies) – making it unique even by his standards.
The recording offers both new and old music, with some of the new songs finding new treatments in this smaller format. The most dramatic may be “Better Days Ahead”, a tune defined by a midtempo Latin groove in its original version, which finds a much more laid-back feel and a slower tempo on this rendition. The reimagining allows the song to take on a much more expressive character, letting us bask in a familiar melody.
Perhaps the most interesting new composition is the opening track, “It Starts When We Disappear”. Driven by Marcus Gilmore’s expressive drumming, the song relies more on intentional dynamic swells than melodic themes (although it does have those, too) to keep the audience grounded amid the extended solos. It’s an exciting arrangement that keeps each moment feeling new while also intelligible.
Metheny is known for diverse talents, blending traditional jazz with other influences like rock, Latin jazz, and minimalism. So it’s not exactly unexpected that Side-Eye covers so much territory; instead, it’s interesting how precise his choices are. With so much material to choose and so many influences, building a tracklist that responds to itself is a major challenge. That’s where this record succeeds – every song has something to do with the track that came before it but is also treated as its own memorable experience.
Take “Sirabhorn,” a cut from Metheny’s debut album Bright Size Life, now a familiar and comforting standard. The song opens at a whisper, with the band periodically swelling into the main theme between patient solos from Metheny. This thoughtful and subdued sound comes on the heels of a new track, “Lodger”,” featuring a searing guitar solo; it’s closer to a rock tune than it is to anything evoking jazz. “Lodger” reaches an incredible, exciting height, with Metheny leaning into lengthier notes and more straightforward phrasing than we’re used to hearing from a jazz mastermind. So when “Sriabhorn” settles in afterward, we have that feeling of collapsing into bed after a long day. And yet, during “Sirabhorn” itself, the performances are so captivating that we’re no longer thinking about “Lodger”, powerful as it was. Every song can speak on its own terms, even though they also speak to each other.
Alongside Gilmore’s extensive talents, keyboardist James Francies shines throughout the record, moving among piano and organ (sometimes simultaneously) to add new textures to Metheny’s ever-changing guitar tone. With his capabilities stretching from virtuosic bebop on “Turnaround” to blues organ on “Timeline”, the two support players give Side-Eye immense range despite a small number of musicians. It’s impressive musicianship that creates an exciting, ever-changing evening of music that’s as accessible as it is engaging.