Pat Metheny guitars
Charlie Haden bass
Billy Higgins drums
Recorded November 29 and 30, 1983 at Power Station, New York
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher
Those of you who, like me, hold Bright Size Life in high esteem as one of Pat Metheny’s best can take comfort in this, his second trio album for ECM, even if the presence of Ornette Coleman’s onetime rhythm section of bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Billy Higgins creates an entirely different result. As on the scratched cover, the names are distinct to a careful eye, but eventually comingle into a unified sound that bubbles with color and shades of intensity.
The session saunters into our hearts with an arresting version of Horace Silver’s “Lonely Woman.” Metheny’s acoustic leads a supremely attuned Haden, who plunks the ether like a giant rubber band as Higgins rustles an autumn’s worth of leaves with his brushes. It is through this play of light and shadow that we find solace in “Tears Inside,” a strangely upbeat affair for which Metheny breaks out the subtle sere of his electric. “Humpty Dumpty” is an even more visceral jaunt through storybook phrasings and fluid guitar licks. The short but sweet title track completes the Coleman half of the album and features some dexterous runs, matched step for step by Higgins’s cymbal work and Haden’s own nimble jaunts. Higgins has one of the most precise snares in the business, as evidenced in his solo. Haden stretches an unassuming flair in “Blues For Pat,” which also boasts Metheny’s most present solo on the album and more percolating beats from Higgins. “Story From A Stranger” reprises Metheny’s shimmering acoustic, which glistens with a backcountry charm, seeping like morning light into a log cabin of secrets. Against this perfect backdrop, Metheny’s soloing reaches some of its most revelatory ever recorded. Another Metheny original, “Waiting For An Answer,” makes for an enigmatic, arco-laden closer.
The album’s only misstep is “The Calling,” the synth guitar of which doesn’t quite jive with me (though flashes of brilliance do appear, as in the ascent at 7:20). And while I do appreciate the improvisatory spirit behind this track, I only wish it had been more properly amped, for at nearly 10 minutes it throws off the delicate balance of its surroundings. But don’t let this one personal caveat deter you from basking in the beauties of those surroundings.
Incidentally, one of engineer Jan Erik Kongshaug’s finer accomplishments.