Here we have three absolutely breathtaking jazz performers locked into a studio for a day or so. From this combination of guitar, standup bass, and acoustic drum kit, we've got nine tracks of sheer jazz joy - three guys just blowing for the hell of it, recorded on the fly. There's a strong sense here that engineer Rob Eaton probably tried to get everybody properly set up and balanced before the session started and just gave up when everybody started playing. It's a delight to hear, because everything has gone into the performance, which is spontaneous and graceful - no going back for the next take here. Metheny's playing is definitely modernistic, highly fluid, almost liquid lightning - no effects boxes here, though (he does play Synclavier on the last track, "Three Flights Up," but it's great anyway). Roy Haynes, likewise, should be heard by anybody wanting to get behind the traps: this man has a sense of humor, and he's a blur of motion. Dave Holland, on bass, is no slouch either, keeping pace with Metheny's guitar lines, and balancing up against Hayne's drums. Together, these guys are incredible. They get into both original material and standards (including an ecstatic version of Miles Davis' "Solar" that opens the album) with the same energy and feel for what they're doing. This is an album with serious crossover potential, and it should definitely be heard by anyone serious about music in any way.
- Steven McDonald (All Music Guide)
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In December of 1989, after a full year of recording and touring with the Pat Metheny Group, Pat Metheny felt like doing something simpler, a change of pace. "All year" he told me after these sides were cut and mastered, "I'd been thinking of playing with Roy Haynes. We've played together a number of times over the years, although we never recorded, and there's almost nobody I feel that comfortable with. We like to do the same kinds of shifts, anticipations and displacements. It's so easy to play with Roy. When I started thinking who would be a great bass player for us, Dave Holland kept coming to mind. I'd always imagined Dave and Roy playing together because they share a very wide vision of how to play in a rhythm section, but in fact until this date they hadn't played much together at all. I was at the end of the Group tour in Scotland, I had a lot of energy from playing all year, I'd have a few days free before Christmas in New York and I thought, Why not? I wasn't thinking about making a record. I just wanted to play with these, guys. We could almost have done it in a rehearsal studio, but as it turned out the Power Station had a day open."
"I'm used to going into a studio with truckloads of stuff, but in this case I walked in carrying the guitar and that was it: one guitar, one setting. We had a great time. We played for about eight hours, we didn't listen back to anything, we just played. It was like a small club gig in a recording studio. While I was ploying I wasn't thinking about putting out a record. I would have played differently if I'd known I was making a record, shorter solos, more attention to construction, that kind of thing. I just felt like playing. And everybody was really listening. To me that was the most exciting part of this date: the intensity of the listening on a second-to-second basis was one of the highest levels I've ever experienced. The first thing on the record, "Solar" was recorded within fifteen minutes of starting, and the interplay was instantly there. We didn't have to start from square one. We started from square twenty-seven. It was a lot of fun, and it felt good to do something like this, to have a record that simply documents the way I played on that one day. I guess that's why the record's coming out."
Well, yes. That and the fact that it's a damn fine album Metheny would have been mad to make and then confine to his archives. What we've got here is some of the fastest company contemporary jazz has to offer, three parallel flyers in plenty of open sky, cutting an inspired course through the brightened air. Catch it if you can.
The language they speak in their transit has been a long time in the making, and one best spoken, perhaps, in the trio format. As jazz soloing and jazz rhythms did their twin evolutions over the decades, and the dancers were left behind with those who would play an unvarying beat for time, all manner of interplay and interchange emerged, the bass and drums expanding their original timekeeping functions into full spontaneous orchestration, right up there in the front line, or nearly. Inspirations intertwined, double visions tripled, had sons and daughters. In the Sixties especially, whether in the sacred fires of John Coltrane's quartet. Miles' ice, or the cloistral remove of Bill Evans' trio, the democracy that is America's truest and too often undiscoverable heritage voted new forms into being. In a music sometimes thought elitist, great rooms for the free intercourse of individuals were opened: if you could speak the language, there was a nearly infinite freedom of speech, and a lot of new things to say. Not a bad vision of community, I'd say. Instead of merely grinding at the wheel of rhythm, drummers and bassists could contribute anything of themselves that came to heart or mind, if they could make it work, if they could make it swing. Roy Haynes was at the center of the whirl of motion. The quickest, wittiest, most contentious and satirical drummer around, who had played with Miles in the Forties, Bird and Pres in the Fifties, Trane on and off in the Sixties, and virtually everyone else at one time or another, Haynes added many of the original leaps and bounds.
Metheny put the case strongly: "To me, Roy-and this is no revelation but it's an opinion I agree with-is the father of modern drumming-and when I say modern drumming I mean the kind of drumming that has continued through Tony Williams and Jock DeJohnette, which for players of my generation is the standard. Roy's the guy. He's always coming up with something, every bar, every note. He's one of the busiest drummers I've ever played with, but it never gets in the way. The thing about Roy is his flow. It's always going on. It always leads to the next thing. He's always pushing it, making the music go ahead. Roy's always been my favorite. The very first time we played together years ago in Boston it just clicked. It still does." You can hear plenty of clicks here, even on CD. Haynes has played brilliantly on literally hundreds of records, but Question and Answer is one of the best places to hear him: the way he twins Metheny without duplicating him and never stops kicking the music up another notch, the continuous shifting of accents, his impossible counterrhythms and melodic solos, the witty flights of snare commentary into which a sudden bass-drum thump abrupts itself out of all symmetry-the sound of surprise, did someone say? Roy Haynes is one of the wonders of contemporary jazz, an unmistakable original, an audible feast. If he doesn't wake you up, or make you laugh in sudden recognition, you haven't been listening.
"Dave Holland is such a complete player" Metheny continued. "We've played together periodically over the last fifteen years-in fact Dave was going to be on my first album. Bright Size Life, which in retrospect I'm glad I did with Jaco Pastorius because we had something unique together and we got it documented. Now he's gone...Also, at that time I wasn't really ready to play with Dave. Sometimes, especially in a trio situation-especially if you're looking to play with the meter as much as we do hen you tend to look to the bass player to provide structural landmarks. You want to fall back on him. But Dave seems to figure. Well, everybody should know what they're doing all the time anyway. And he's right. He's the ultimate combination of someone who gives you enough information so that as a listener you can figure out what's happening harmonically-though he has a very advanced way of implying harmony-but at the same time he's totally independent, a free spirit in the music. That's a rare combination. You've got guys who play very freely and are easily distracted by their own ideas to the point where their functional gestures are kind of lost, and you've got guys who just play basslines. Dave is going to play very independently and still make the structural connections you need if you're going to play song forms" And that-thank you. Pat-is about the best characterization of Dave Holland's playing I've ever heard. There's a mysterious quality to Holland. How does he add so much propulsion and support and still leave so much room for the other layers? He's as powerfully present as a bass player can be without, for all his authority, ever usurping any of the musical space. His instantaneous adaptations to Metheny's shifts of emphasis are at least as impressive as his always formidable technique. Listen, for example, to his ertoire of responses to the guitarist's alternate motion towards and away from the blues changes of "H & H" and the differently nuanced time he plays in instance. (His commanding solo on the same tune has some interesting echoes of Mingus, both in the thrust of some of its bluesier lines and even, here and there, in Holland's attack.)
Holland's playing also points up one of the most exciting things about the kind of interplay that this trio got into on 12/21/89: that all manner of brilliant exchange takes place amid a constant forward motion. It's a kind of interaction that never needs to call attention to itself with sudden hushes, obvious calls-and-responses or other signposts extraneous to the process itself. It is music-making of the utmost sophistication and, where appropriate, unrelenting swing. Listen to Metheny's continuous onrush of ideas on his rapid version of "All the Things You Are" and how Holland and Haynes are right there with him through every over-the-barline extension and quicksilver change of emphasis, or the very different sort of support they lend to the melody and tenderness of "Change of Hearty one of the album's two very different waltzes. "Playing on the form without worrying about the form," is one way Metheny characterized the playing in this album. To me it suggests recurrent images of flight, of an inspired interchange between three spirits flown forward and free. The air is high and clear, the sense of play continuous. This stuff is up there.
"For a jazz guitar player" Metheny maintains, "it's a difficult thing fo ptav trio. You dont have the dynamic range that you'd have with a tenor saxophone, like Sonny Rollins or an Albert Ayler, yet you don't have the harmonic possibilities that you have with a piano, and that in a way is the intriguing part of it for me. There haven't been a lot of great guitar trios, but there's something intriguing about the combination of guitar, bass and drums. It's a kind of chamber group that includes everyone from the Jimi Hendrix Experience to what I think is the best guitar trio playing I've heard, and that's Jim Hall's various trios. To me, that's the highest level, though there have been a number of other interesting ones. My other points of reference for playing in this style are Paul Bley-especially his solo on "All the Things You Are" from the album Sonny Meets Hawk-Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson, and yes, Wes Montgomery too. This is the first time I've recorded any standards and in a way I'm glad it's taken this long. Over the years the way I play that material has developed. The only reason for playing "All the Things You Are" for the nine-hundred-thousandth time is if you have some ideas of what those chord changes suggest that hasn't already been covered, something unique. When I listen back to this session, it doesn't sound too much like my initial points of reference, and I feel good about that. There are elements of them in there, but it relates to my own experience, my own musical perspective and the other music I've played. By now it seems like it's got a point of view to it. I think that in the last four or five years especially, my playing has evolved to another level and that now when I play with somebody from an earlier generation-like Ornette or people from whom I've learned an enormous amount can make a real contribution, as opposed to just playing. I loved playing this music, and I'm glad it's coming out."
I'm sure I won't be the only one to add my enthusiastic assent, or to be glad that Metheny continues to deploy his evolving originality in a number of musical contexts. Although the debt to Jim Hall here is obvious in the timbral softness of Metheny's guitar and the obliquity of some of his lines. Question and Answer is fundamentally unlike anything Hall has ever played. But then from the beginning. Pat Metheny seems to have had his own song to sing, always heartfelt and adventurous, and always on the look-out for its next evolutionary elaboration. This album, the third he has made in the trio format, represents a marking of the way. The fleetness of the company ensures its excellence, and the unaccustomed spontaneity of its origin leaves it open to the future, radiant with signs of what's to come.