PAT METHENY'S new album, "Question and Answer," is his his third and best trio album, a straight-up jazz session that finds him collaborating with the exemplary bassist Dave Holland and the veteran but still tirelessly inventive drummer Roy Haynes.
It seems only fitting that Metheny gives the 64-year-old Haynes top billing on the flip side of the album cover. After all, its title refers to the kind of conversational rapport Metheny and Haynes quickly develop on the brisk yet bluesy Miles Davis tune "Solar," a spirited dialogue not confined to the customary two- or four-bar trade-offs here and there. On the contrary, it lasts for the entire record.
While Metheny (and sometimes Holland) ever so nimbly carry the melody on the title cut, Ornette Coleman's "Law Years" and other tracks, Haynes is every bit their equal. Time and again he proves to be a terrifically animated yet sensitive ensemble player, whether softly shading Metheny's sensuous blues "Never Too Far Way" or, as is more often the case, keeping his colleagues on their toes with great drive and a broad assortment of shimmering colors and chattering accents.
Comparisons to Haynes's work with Chick Corea in the late '60s are probably inevitable, yet the performances here couldn't sound less derivative or dated. A mixture of new pieces by Metheny, hoary pop ballads -- "Old Folks" and "All the Things You Are" -- and freshly overhauled jazz vehicles, all recorded during one spirited eight-hour recording session, the album has a wonderfully free and spontaneous air about it, a far cry from Metheny's usually methodic approach to studio work.
Holland's strikingly resonant tone and his knack for neatly balancing melodic and rhythmic thrust are also evident on his new quartet album, "Extensions," featuring guitarist Kevin Eubanks, saxophonist Steve Coleman and drummer Marvin "Smitty" Smith. Despite Eubanks's ties to fusion and Coleman's fondness for funk, "Extensions" is anything but trendy. Eubanks's 11-minute opus "Nemesis," which capitalizes on Coleman's tart sax and Smith's off-kilter attack, sets the album's restless, venturesome tone, a mood later captured by another Eubanks original, "Color Of Mind," while Holland contributes the album's loveliest pieces: "The Oracle," a ballad as insinuating as it is exotic, and the stately "Processional."
PAT METHENY, DAVE HOLLAND, ROY HAYNES --
"Question and Answer" (Geffen).
THE DAVE HOLLAND QUARTET --
"Extensions" (ECM). Metheny, Holland and Haynes appear Sunday at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis (Constitution Avenue and Greenfield Street, 301/261-1553 or 301/263-5544) and Monday and Tuesday at Blues Alley.