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Gilding an already beautiful Lily? Much more: A generous gift to fans
on October 1, 2007
This is my first foray into the remastered Geffen Metheny releases. I have heard they sound great and I don't doubt that: the fact is they already sounded great in their initial release. What drew me to this one was the promise of a second disc containing five unreleased songs from the Secret Story sessions. More on that later.
By the mid 80's Metheny felt stifled by ECM's pressure to make albums in one or two days with few or no overdubs and in 1985, left to make studio albums that took advantage of the advanced processing and mixing capablilities of the studio, an approach almost completely contrary to Manfred Eicher's european aseticism. Eicher's aesthetic worked quite well for most of the artists in his catalogue, even some of Metheny's own CDs, (As Fall Wichita Falls comes to mind,), but never seemed to gel for the Metheny Group albums. The Geffen people gave Metheny the time and sophisticated environment he needed to realize his vision. That vision was never more focused than on this side project, Secret Story. This was to be Pat's most personal and ambitious statement of his career.
Even without the extra disc it was a massive epic, clocking in just under the 80 minutes allotted for the CD format. Yet in 78 minutes or so, nearly every human emotion was explored, from the religious ecstasy of Above the Treetops, through the earthy optimism of Cathedral in a Suitcase, the epic transcendance of Finding and Believing, the forlorn longing of Tell Her You Saw Me to the soul searching strings of Antonia. It is a profoundly honest work, sweeping the listener along a journey through youth and innocence, discovery and heartbreak and finally to acceptance and healing. I have always suspected that the subtext of this album was a story of love and loss but with Pat Metheny being the very private person he is, it is likely that story will remain a secret one.
So, the two things most fans will want to know the answers to:
1.How does it sound? Well, it definitely sounds better. Parts are more defined and the bass seems deeper and wider. The overall soundstage seems wider as well. It is a quantitatively better sounding master. I would not say that the difference is startling, but it is quite noticeable.
2. How are the five new tracks? I have only listened to them twice, but my impression is that they are, like many of the tracks on the original, cinematic and evocative. They just didn't make the cut. And while I can understand why these didn't make it to the original SS release due to time considerations, quality etc, I wouldn't exactly dismiss them as throw aways.On the other hand, I would say that they are not essential to the arc of the original Secret Story release, which stands on its own as whole and complete.
The first track features Toots Thielemans and reminds me a bit of the ballad from the original CD, Always and Forever. I would say Always is the superior composition, which I am guessing is why this track didn't make it to the CD, but I like the atmosphere of this piece very much and Pat's guitar solo is quite beautiful. And it's always a treat to hear the one and only Toots. Clocking in at almost 6 minutes, it is the centerpiece of this new material.
The second tune reminds me of the earlier Metheny Group sound with Pedro Aznar. The vocalist is not identified-it might very well be Pedro, probably the most soulful singer the group ever had. If you liked First Circle you will be pleasantly reminded of that high point in the career of the PMG. But don't expect too much-this tune is a relatively simple mood piece that doesn't develop beyond a simple repetitive structure.
The third tune is a short piece scored for harp and strings. Pat doesn't play on this track. It contains more of the somber tone that emerges towards the end of the first disc. A beautiful miniature that fits right in with the Secret Story journey.
The fourth piece, primarlily scored for strings, is written in a modern tonal classical style similar to Gorecki. I just wish it wasn't so short. It would've been nice to hear some development. It ends just as it seems to settle in.
The fifth tune is Metheny at his lightest and silliest. Sporting a jaunty whistle-down-the-street melody, it hints at Pat's affection for Burt Bacharach and Jimmy Webb and exudes the goofy optimism one associates with a score to a 60's coming of age film or TV theme, all innocence and naivete, yet enchanting nonetheless. Makes you almost wonder if in an alternative reality, Pat might've had a successful career scoring for television.
I wish that all the PMG remasters had these sort of extras. I'd buy them in a heartbeat.
In short: Highly recommended just for the improved sound alone, especially for those who are already fans of this ambitious masterpiece. The bonus tracks are icing on an already sumptuous cake.