Guitar legend Pat Metheny has done nothing more than expand his horizons for nearly 30 years. Initially a fusion player lost in the '70s torrent of jazz-lite, Metheny always had the chops but seemed to stay too firmly in check to rank with the greats. That all ended with 1980's ponderously titled As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, his collaboration with Lyle Mays. Called jazz simply because of ECM label constraints, the found sounds and electronics of Wichita were such a shocking departure that many purists cried foul.
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The Way Up is Metheny's best since Song X, his untamed effort with Ornette Coleman. With traffic noises as a backdrop, Metheny's latest actually succeeds in melding his wild-oats years with the fusion that first gained him notoriety. Soft and slow passages are enlivened by atypical frenzies reminiscent of the late, great Frank Zappa. Not content to serve as background music, Metheny continues challenging himself and the listener. Few can claim such distinction.