Guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau created a stir in 2006 with their wonderful duet recording. On that set, two of the album's ten cuts featured Mehldau's rhythm section of bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard. Quartet is a mirror image: seven of these 11 cuts are full quartet sides. The musical magic established by that collaboration sets the stage for the pair to dig deeper here. It's true that melodic and harmonic invention is the root of each of the tunes here, though that doesn't mean there isn't room to move. Metheny's Way Up recording offered ample of evidence of how compositional sophistication could accomplish virtually anything. There, the players had written parts, but also had room for improvisation within that framework. The same happens here, though the pieces are shorter. Partial evidence of this is the disc's second selection, "The Sound of Water," which has a nearly pastoral theme. But Metheny uses counterpoint on a 12-string guitar to meet Mehldau's chordal investigation. One need only go one cut further in on "Fear and Trembling," by Mehldau, to see how quickly the two can step outside their bonds while retaining their commitment. The knotty playing with distortion by Metheny moves toward the rhythm section, which establishes the kind of fluidity his sense of time requires. Mehldau's own post-bop modal solo works through the lyric frames in the tune's structure and cuts through them, finding their densities and spaces. Grenadier's elasticity as a bassist allows the time to float and shift -- seemingly -- without ever losing the harmonic thread even when Metheny moves outside toward the end of the cut.
The duet ballad "Don't Wait," with Metheny on acoustic guitar, comes together with all the warmth and textured lyric sensibility that their debut displayed. These two men are not at all self-conscious here; they seem to hear each other in both solo and chorus with equally gentle ears. The shimmering piano on "Towards the Light" finds Mehldau exploring those gorgeous multi-note phrases he loves so much, with Metheny reacting sparely and creating a virtual shimmering in the cut. Ballard is very impressive here as he shades his beats with cymbals and rim shots, and gives the entire cut something earthy to hang onto. There are two Latin-tinged (barely) tunes, "En la Terra Que No Olvida" (Metheny) and "Santa Cruz Slacker" (Mehldau). The former is knottier and less obvious, but the meter is one Brubeck employed a lot in the early '60s and perhaps it serves as a model here. The latter cut is more languid on the surface, but Ballard's drumming is simply out of this world as he skitters and scampers all over and in front of the band throughout. There is perhaps no surprise at how well these two communicate -- especially with a rhythm section as wonderful as this one is. If there is a feeling that some tunes run together, they don't; this is not a suite, but a solid amalgam of brilliant musicianship, with a humble approach that is elegant and dignified. These guys have come up with a gorgeous and sexy creation, and listeners should be delighted to spend some time with it.