PAT METHENY GROUP -- Imaginary Day (Warner Brothers)

From the first dramatic tones of the title track, it's clear that the Pat Metheny Group has found a multitude of new influences on their new CD, Imaginary Day. The disc covers a much wider spectrum of musical styles than any previous effort by the band. Metheny describes the new CD as "an extended journey into a musical zone that lets you imagine your own scenario and stories, and emotions to go with them."

Besides the assorted traditional guitars and synth-guitars, there are three new instruments heard on the CD. The first is the fretless classical guitar, heard extensively on the title track. Next is the 42-string pikasso guitar. This one has been used occasionally on previous albums, but never as the main instrument. It sounds a bit like an oriental harp, or koto, and can be heard in a solo setting on "Into the Dream."

The third new 'instrument' is a guitar audio workstation made by Roland called the VG-8. It's basically a pickup that allows any guitar to emulate any combination of guitar sounds, amps, rooms, etc. You can hear the VG-8 on the lushly arranged "Follow Me" and "The Roots of Coincidence," where it takes on an almost thrash-metal sound. These are just a few of the many sounds produced by this new product.

Musically, the songs on Imaginary Day are some of Metheny's best. The epic title track is painstakingly orchestrated; resulting in one of the most captivating pieces ever recorded by the group. It also features a synth solo by Lyle Mays--his first since "Are You Going With Me?" (from the 1981 album, Offramp). "The Heat of the Day" continues in the grand, cinematic style of the title cut, and features an excellent piano solo by Mays. "Across the Sky" is a hauntingly beautiful tune with tasteful soloing by Metheny on electric guitar.

One of the many highlights on the CD (and Metheny's favorite) is "The Roots of Coincidence." This song rocks unusually hard for a Pat Metheny tune. The VG-8 is used extensively on the cut to achieve various effects, and the results are nothing short of spellbinding. Musically, the song rocks out, then goes from something ethereal, to jungle beats and back--all in a matter of seconds. This is truly a case where you have to hear to believe it. Excellent track. Metheny slows things down a bit after that with the quiet, introspective ballad, "Too Soon Tomorrow," and then brings the CD to a close with "The Awakening," and another great solo from Mays.

Imaginary Day may or may not win new fans for the group, but those who have appreciated his music in the past are sure to enjoy his new release. Definitely not an easy listen the first time around, this CD grows on you each time you hear it. Metheny's not content to sit back and reinvent himself. He consistently tries new things on this CD, and the result is quite possibly the best thing the band has ever recorded.

© 1997 Steve Marshall