Release date: September 19, 1988
One of the benefits of ECM’s “Works” collections is their fashioning of new narratives from preexisting material. This album is particularly successful in that regard. Like cut-and-paste poetry, it connects disparate events with uncanny coherence. It’s also unique for being the only sequel in the series, and for instigating a new and final set of five, redesigned covers and all. Here we are treated to highlights from some of Metheny’s most painterly work on record, and from sometimes-unexpected sources.
As for the expected, the compilation unearths two gems from 1976’s Bright Size Life. The trio of Metheny, bassist Jaco Pastorius, and drummer Bob Moses must be heard to be believed (as first-time listeners, I imagine, hardly believed what they heard when this leader debut was released). Where “Unquity Road” casts a spell from note one, constructing from found items a house no proverbial wolf could ever blow down, “Unity Village” is a congregation of electric guitars that allows the wind of our listening to pass through unobstructed. Such ventilation is key to Metheny’s art: furthering the gospel of melody by allowing creativity to flow directed. The detour of “Oasis” (Watercolors, 1977), in which bassist Eberhard Weber draws sustaining threads across Metheny’s sparkling arpeggios, segues back into that glorious trio with “Sirabhorn.” Another classic stopover plants us squarely in the Pat Metheny Group’s 1983 live album Travels. “Farmer’s Trust” is noteworthy for its birdlike environment and aching lyricism.
Two somewhat surprising trees sprout from 1980’s 80/81 and 1984’s Rejoicing. The first, “Open,” finds Metheny unraveling an especially tight knot in the company of Dewey Redman and Mike Brecker (tenor saxophones), Charlie Haden (bass), and Jack DeJohnette (drums). The second, “Story From A Stranger,” joins Haden and drummer Billy Higgins at the hip alongside Metheny’s synth guitar. Every chord change is a new phase of life, a coming of age in the truest sense and a gentle reminder that nostalgia may yet be felt and conveyed for things we’ve never even experienced.