Charlie Haden
& Pat Metheny,
Beyond the Missouri Sky
(Short Stories)

(Verve, 2003)

This is 70 minutes of stripped-down musical excellence by America's finest, at the most accessible (and most lyrical) edge of jazz. This review is based on the re-release of the original album -- this reissue contains a bonus DVD featuring a short interview with Haden & Metheny, plus a rare live 20-minute recording of two of the album's tracks, "First Song (For Ruth)" and "Our Spanish Love Song." This is well worth seeing: both musicians' judgment and timing are perfect, and their playing reveals and evokes much feeling. Each knows when to bring his playing to the fore, and exactly when to hold back.

Haden plays double bass, and Metheny plays acoustic steel-string and classical guitars. Metheny also uses synthesisers and keyboards on some tracks to add orchestral texture. The DVD interview gives good insight to the geographical and spiritual inspiration behind the music. Those wide American midwest rural landscapes seem to conjure themselves before my eyes as I listen! Good insight from Metheny, too, who elaborates a little on his compositional technique, telling us: "I write my best stuff as soon as I wake up."

Around half of the songs were written or arranged by Haden & Metheny; the rest are cover versions -- I find them all very moving. The tonal textures are superb from the first note of "Waltz for Ruth," Haden's double bass working empathically alongside Metheny's unique guitar chords and voicing. The album abounds with inspired solo passages. Metheny's "Message to a Friend" is a powerful (yet incredibly gentle) statement that allows one to communicate with the other perfectly. Haden's "First Song (For Ruth)" is an exquisite piece, soulful and moving. The album is fittingly subtitled -- for these are indeed "Short Stories."

Two compositions lift the album into exalted territory: Jim Webb's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" and Johnny Mandel's "The Moon Song" with its exquisite orchestral textures. Metheny's "Tears of Rain" is played on an acoustic sitar-guitar (an instrument used on much of his other work) -- listen to the way Haden "bows out" on double bass! "Love Theme" and "Main Theme" by Andrea and Ennio Morricone (from Cinema Paradiso) are striking, too; the sound of Metheny's fingers working the fret is audible on "Main Theme." Josh Haden's composition "Spiritual" closes the album -- it's a moving tribute from father to son.

Haden & Metheny are at their very best.

- Rambles
written by Debbie Koritsas
published 26 June 2004

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