In retrospect, their pairing should have been a no-brainer. Last year Brad Mehldau, a deeply impressionistic pianist, joined labelmate and veteran guitarist Pat Metheny on the simply titled Metheny Mehldau. They proved to be a dynamic duo capable of remarkable empathy and graceful improvisations. Already appreciative of one another’s musicianship, the oft-introspective Mehldau and eclectic Metheny forged an intelligent, accessible blend of sonic explorations and acoustic discipline that demanded a sequel. Quartet fulfills that need and more by offering seven compositions by Metheny, three from Mehldau and a co-written opener. With three duets on the disc, the intrigue of their earlier guitar-keyboard collaboration continues, notably on the wistful “Long Before.”
Quartet expands the group to include Mehldau’s current accompanists, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, on seven of its 11 tracks. With the larger group, bigger isn’t necessarily better, but it intensifies an already extensive array of effects and moods. The ostinato-driven “A Night Away” sends off feelings of joy. “Fear and Trembling” delivers a dark side of angular guitar chords and frenetic pacing. The familiar airy Metheny sound—evident throughout but especially on “Toward the Light” and apparent even on Mehldau’s blues-tinged “Santa Cruz Slacker”—shimmers with subtly shifting rhythmic exchanges underneath. Meanwhile, unexpected bass notes and cymbal work accent Metheny and Mehldau’s lyrical excursions.