transcendent ambient music

Beyond the Missouri Sky (short stories) (Verve)
Charlie Haden & Pat Metheny

By Tim Roberts

Bassist Charlie Haden and guitarist Pat Metheny combined their talents for Beyond the Missouri Sky, which marks the first exclusive duet release for the pair, even though they have played together on their own or others' releases for seventeen years. As two of the more noteworthy jazz stylists from the last two-and-a-half decades, they have produced a collection of nearly all acoustic selections that is a beautiful, sweeping, and open tribute to the state where they were both born.

Along with originals from Haden and Metheny, the selections include works from Roy Acuff, Henry Mancini and Leslie Bricusse, Ennio and Andrea Morricone, Jim Webb, Johnny Mandel, and Haden's son Joshua.

Haden's "Waltz for Ruth," dedicated to his wife, opens the recording, followed by his "Spanish Love Song," originally performed by his Quartet West on the 1993 noire-tribute Always Say Good-bye. Metheny's contributions include "Message to a Friend" and the touching, Oriental-laced "Tears of Rain."

The duo handles Roy Acuff's "The Precious Jewel" with a breezy-but-tight joy. It may remind you of driving down a sun-soaked open road, top down, on the last perfect day of spring before the heat bullies its way in. From Metheny's delicate plucking on the guitar, you can also feel the sadness of the "Love" and "Main Themes" from Cinema Paradiso, both by Ennio Morricone and his son Andrea. The collection finishes appropriately with Josh Haden's "Spiritual," performed not as intensely as Johnny Cash did on his 1996 Unchained release.

Beyond is subtitled "short stories," and like a collection of short stories, each selection has its own theme, tone, shading – personality, if you will – that contributes to the experience of the whole work. Each piece is subtle, quiet, gentle. Nothing hard or dramatic, or plunked into a groove. Much of today's acoustic/ambient music never requests that you actively listen. Instead, it works in the background as you do yoga, housework, or crossword puzzles. The talents behind Beyond the Missouri Sky draw you into the entire work, achieving what other ambient performers strive for: transcendence.