Pat Metheny Group
Imaginary Day (Warner Bros.)

By Tim Roberts

Don't deny you have them. Those select few recordings you like to play with the your headphones on and the lights off. The ones that act as sponges to soak up all the stress you feel in your body, where you can just switch off your head and latch onto the music. And you don't use them as just as mere background tunes, either. These are the recordings where the music is complex and beautiful, where you allow yourself to get lost on purpose, but return relaxed and refreshed. The Pat Metheny Group has created another one for you: Imaginary Day.

Recorded this past spring, just when Pat and bassist Charlie Haden had released Beyond the Missouri Sky (another stressbuster for your headphone listening), Imaginary Day contains selections that are hallmarks of the Metheny sound: open tones that suggest large spaces, technically astounding guitar and keyboard solos, the blend of a chanting voice and melody instrument. For this one, though, the group stretches out with some light pop and edgy, techno-metal that enhance, but do not harm, the recording's continuity.

Guitarist Metheny is joined by his regular band: Lyle Mays on keyboards, Steve Rodby on bass, and Paul Wertico on drums. Mark Ledford and David Blamires join on vocals and other instruments. The recording also boasts four percussionists: Mino Cinelu, David Samuels, Glen Velez, and Don Alias.

Imaginary Day begins with the title track, which combines dramatic, full band "stings" that signify different parts of the piece, rainforest sound effects of rain and chirping birds, and Pat's lonely electric guitar. This is followed by "Follow Me," a lighter, breezy pop selection with a soft rhythm and Mark Ledford's soaring vocals that double the melody line.

The third and fourth tracks blend seamlessly. "Into the Dream" features Metheny solo on the 42-string Pikasso guitar, which softly draws us into the next selection, "A Story Within the Story." Performed live at the Palace Theatre early in November, these two opening selections drew the audience gently into an unforgettable show. The effect is the same on the recording. This is followed by the rapid, Latin-rhythmed "The Heat of the Day," then the soothing "Across the Sky."

But lest you think Metheny is giving us recycled Yanni tunes, you are pulled into another direction with "The Roots of Coincidence." It starts with a looped synthisized keyboard and drum machine, then Metheny slices in with an edgy electric guitar. For the rest of the selection, put simply and succinctly, PAT ROCKS! He changes keys every four or eight bars, building a tension that drops suddenly then builds again. The result is exciting and exhausting.

The next selection, "Too Soon Tomorrow," is a lull into a musical tranquility following the intensity of "Roots," with the trademark Metheny-and-Mays gentleness. "The Awakening," closes Imaginary Day with its spirited, Gaelic theme. It seems a perfect summary to the "imaginary day" where the group has taken us.

Another cool aspect of the recording is that most of the liner notes and credits are written in symbols: small pictures of trees, fish, pyramids, and globes are used instead of text. But don't worry. The CD jewel box contains a Captain Metheny Secret Decoder for you to translate the notes.

Imaginary Day shows us all the talents for which Metheny and his group are famous: the open sound, the vocals, long tunes that are structured like symphonettes with a theme and versions on it. It also shows the bands capabilities, with their edge into techno-metal rock. Whatever their music styles they try in each recording, the Pat Metheny Group always invites us on a trip. Just slip the headphones on and go.