You have to savor the moments when you can. I mean, with as many sidebars as Pat Metheny seems to take these days, his efforts with the PMG are of a limited scope and they come with some space between the records and touring- about four and a half years to be exact. It was 1997 when Imaginary Day hit the record shelves and the last time that Metheny and crew had been through Cleveland for a live gig. Currently, Speaking of Now is the record of the hour and a new ensemble is out on the road spreading the gospel according to Pat and Lyle. A healthy crowd started to assemble early and before the doors would even open to the somewhat warmer lobby, the buzz on the street hinted at new band members and what material would be covered and what would have to be let go, considering that Metheny’s already generous show was a mere three hours! Pretty much on schedule, Pat unpretentiously walked out on stage by himself to render a solo take on “Last Train Home.” Then newbie Antonio Sanchez joined the leader on drums for a brief duo spell, all with the house lights still on high. But then in an instant, darkness fell over the stage and the entire ensemble was on board for a perky “Phase Dance.” Much of the first set struck a balance between solo, trio, and whole group numbers that allowed Metheny and the rest of the band to pace themselves for the strenuous evening. A pleasant surprise was a straight ahead reading of Jobim’s “How Insensitive” for Metheny, Rodby, and Sanchez. There was a good mix between new material and established favorites prior to about the half-way point, when the guitarist paused to introduce the band members. The latter portion of the evening kicked off with an intense overture for trumpeter Cuong Vu. Utilizing “Offramp” as a basic structure, Vu’s electric horn spit and sputtered its way through looping and delay effects, the intensity supported firmly by Metheny’s guitar synth. Both “On Her Way” and “Afternoon” allowed African vocalist Richard Bona to strut his stuff, the latter performance also including some tasty kalimba soloing from the multi-instrumentalist. And as if that wasn’t enough, Bona would then pick up his electric bass to help Metheny and Sanchez recreate the magic of “Bright Size Life.”
Of the older material, the most logical choices became part of the musical landscape- “Are You Going With Me,” “First Circle,” “The Roots of Coincidence,” and “Minuano (Six-Eight).” A shame that there weren’t more selections picked from Imaginary Day, arguably one of the group’s finest achievements to date. But, there again is that time crunch issue. “Song For Bilbao” provided a boisterous encore and as well oiled as this new outfit seemed to be, one had the distinct impression that even greater things are yet to come.