Pat Metheny's new live double album, "Travels," was recorded mostly at concerts in the Southwest, and like the region itself, the Metheny group's jazz is rich and linear and full of open sky. Metheny and keyboardist Lyle Mays are like twin sons of different mothers, communicating their very individual ideas to each other with identical grace and continuity -- but leaving enough space for the music to breathe.
Side One is typically lyrical. Metheny's guitar is joyous and questioning on "Are You Going With Me?" And he and Mays evoke not only the objects of the title on "The Fields, the Sky," but also the feeling of standing between them on a waning, windswept day. Side Two offers "Phase Dance" and the sweetly mischievous "Farmer's Trust," on which Dan Gottlieb and Nana Basconcelos show how unobtrusively assertive percussion instruments can be.
Metheny almost unfailingly inspires strong emotion with his compositions, a formidable gift that he handles with delicacy and dynamics rather than pyrotechnics. Again and again, he evokes the fascination of life as a never-predictable open road, a theme that recurs throughout the body of his work. But he evokes the faces along that road, too; they come alive gradually like well-drawn fictional characters leaping off a page, and suddenly, with a startling chord change or a moody melodic passage, you feel the inexplicable urge to whisper, "I know that person! I've seen that place!"
The one track that doesn't come off well in a live context is Side Three's "Extradition," on which Metheny's guitar grows shrill and overly idiosyncratic. But it's followed by the best cut (and the album's biggest challenge), a live rendition of "As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls." It manages to do justice to the 1981 studio version, with occasional triumphs all its own. This piece alone, with its mystery and mood changes and haunting melodies, is worth the price of the album. And because they're so young and full of ideas, I hesitate to label it the definitive Metheny-Mays masterpiece. But I'll go as far as to say it's the aural emotional equivalent of the Vietnam Memorial. ON RECORD, ON STAGE THE ALBUM AT METHENY GROUP -- Travels (ECM 23791-1 J). THE SHOW PAT METHENY GROUP, Friday at 8 at Merriweather Post Pavilion.