Over the last decade drummer Jack DeJohnette and guitarist Pat Metheny have recorded in a broad variety of jazz and jazz fusion contexts, from DeJohnette's chamber-like collaborations on pop standards with pianist Keith Jarrett and bassist Gary Peacock to Metheny's experimental work with saxophonist Ornette Coleman. But if DeJohnette's new album, "Parallel Realities" (MCA), is any indication, the two are likely to explore the middle ground when they join pianist Herbie Hancock and bassist Dave Holland at Wolf Trap tomorrow night.
The album's biggest surprise is that it sounds more like a Metheny album than something DeJohnette designed, even though the drummer wrote (or co-wrote) the majority of the tunes. Nearly all of them emphasize Metheny's muted tone, floating improvisations and guitar synthesizer rather than DeJohnette's rhythmic power, and many of them boast the kind of sunny, alluring melodies that Metheny is known for gently unfurling.
In fact, if anyone is responsible for giving the album a darker and more soulful tinge, it's Metheny. His relaxed but decidedly funky composition "John McKee," a blues firmly underscored by a knotty, chromatically cresting solo by Hancock, contrasts sharply with the sort of breezy tunes that DeJohnette clearly composed with Metheny in mind.
As a result, there's certainly no shortage of hummable melodies here. DeJohnette's "Jack In," an abundantly catchy theme, immediately sets the album's listener-friendly tone, while the skittish, call-and-response-patterned "Dancing" and tempo-shifting "Nine Over Reggae" add more of a rhythmic edge and some splashes of faux brass courtesy of Metheny's guitar synth. Occasionally the focus shifts toward the kind of atmospheric textures that Metheny has often adopted in the past, and yet there's something so inherently melodic about the solos that he and Hancock fashion on this album that the playing never stoops to mere noodling. Still, the impressionistic ballads are no match for the album's most ambitious, colorful and animated fusion performance -- the title cut -- which brings the record to a vibrant close.
When "Parallel Realities" occasionally falls short of expectations, it's because it lacks the kind of compelling interplay that distinguishes DeJohnette's best recordings. Some of the performances are a bit too calculated and constrained, as if designed to ensure that Metheny's fans would embrace it, and the absence of Holland, who is touring with the group but doesn't appear on the record, doesn't help matters any.
Pat Metheny: 'Question and Answer'
Just the opposite is true of Metheny's new album, "Question and Answer" (Geffen). A sharp but welcome departure for the guitarist, the recording is Metheny's first straight-up jazz session, teaming him with Holland and the veteran but still tirelessly resourceful drummer Roy Haynes. Along with Max Roach's recent collaboration with Dizzy Gillepsie, "Question and Answer" offers more than sufficient proof that some of the most inventive drumming heard today is the work of jazz elders.
Metheny gives the 64-year-old Haynes top billing on the flip side of the album cover, and deservedly so. Although comparisons to Haynes's work with Chick Corea in the late '60s are probably inevitable, the performances here couldn't sound less derivative or dated. A mix of new pieces by Metheny, hoary pop ballads ("Old Folks" and "All the Things You Are") and freshly overhauled jazz vehicles (Miles Davis's "Solar" and Coleman's "Law Years"), the tunes aren't nearly as important as the exchanges and improvisations they have inspired. Basically a blowing session, the album has a wonderfully free and spontaneous air about it -- as if it was all recorded in one take, a far cry from Metheny's usually methodical approach to studio work.
The album's title refers to the kind of conversational rapport Metheny and Haynes quickly develop on the brisk but yet bluesy "Solar." And that dialogue isn't confined to the customary two- or four-bar trade-offs here and there -- it lasts for the entire album. Even though Metheny (and sometimes Holland) carries the melody on the title cut, "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 Away" or, as is more often the case, keeping everyone on his toes with great drive and a broad assortment of shimmering colors and chattering accents.
John Scofield: 'Time on My Hands'
With vigorous support from DeJohnette, bassist Charlie Haden and saxophonist Joe Lovano, guitarist John Scofield is headed in the same "in the tradition" direction on "Time on My Hands" (Blue Note). True, some of the tunes aren't far removed from Scofield's more familiar fusion forays -- the abstract "Stranger to the Light," in fact, could easily have been adapted by one of his recent supercharged ensembles, but overall the album focuses on ballads, bop and blues and plays down the electronics.
Highlights include "Wabash III," a potent slice of bop for the '90s, the sassy Afro-Cuban flavored "So Sue Me" and the film noirish ballad "Nocturnal Mission." Like Metheny and so many other young guitarists strongly influenced by Jim Hall, Scofield has a light and lyrical touch, which is nicely set off here by Lovano's virile sax and DeJohnette's forceful backing.
"Things Ain't What They Used to Be'
Scofield also pops up for three cameos on pianist McCoy Tyner's new album, "Things Ain't What They Used to Be" (Blue Note). His cool tone illuminates the angular contours of Thelonious Monk's "I Mean You" and contributes silvery trumpetlike lines to Clifford Brown's jazz perennial "Joy Spring." Likewise, the veteran tenor saxophonist George Adams proves a worthy duet partner on a couple of tunes, particularly Tyner's own "Blues on a Corner," which finds Adams weaving a sinuous melody around Tyner's quirky harmonies.
But what really distinguishes the album are the eight solo performances. A delightful offshoot of an album Tyner released last year, the virtuosic solo collection "Revelations," the pieces extend from Tyner's grand and robust overture "The Greeting" to a spiritual reading of John Coltrane's "Naima" to a typically percussive and persuasive version of the Mercer Ellington title track.