Sunday, February 27, 2005 by David Rubien for the San Francisco Chronicle

The Pat Metheny Group's new album, "The Way Up," is a classic example of why a lot of jazz purists don't really go for this undeniably skilled guitarist. It has plenty of bracing jazz on it, but there's a ton of other stuff that doesn't fit into the standard pigeonholes.

Purists will no doubt wag their fingers at the fact that the album has rocketed to the top of the Billboard chart -- the contemporary jazz albums chart, whose residents are apt to include people like Norah Jones and Satan himself, Kenny G. It's the wrong chart for anyone who wants to be taken seriously by purists.

Aside from big hair, Metheny has about as much in common with Kenny G as Aretha Franklin has with Hilary Duff. What Metheny does have is something that any jazz musician would kill for: talent that puts him at the pinnacle of prowess on his instrument and a prodigious fan base eager to follow that talent wherever it takes him.

You can't really blame people for sticking the guitarist in weird categories.

"I come from the liberal wing of the jazz party," Metheny says by phone from the Upper West Side Manhattan home he shares with his wife, Latifa, and their two young sons. "That wing has the most diverse, inclusive definition of jazz."


THE PAT METHENY GROUP plays at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Paramount Theatre, 2025 Broadway, Oakland. $45-$75. (415) 421-8497 or (510) 625-8497; www.paramounttheatre.com.

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