Pat Metheny's Unity Group is perfectly named because, in its quintet lineup even more so than the original quartet, the group's approach brings together every musical element the famed guitarist has pursued during the course of his career. Acoustic guitars of the solo projects, dense high-tech arrangements à la Pat Metheny Group, traditional jazz horns recalling 80/81
(ECM, 1980) and vigorous ensemble improvisation hearkening to his various trios all mix on Kin (<>)
's very first track, "On Day One," and subsequently in varying proportions as the album progresses.
The music of The Pat Metheny Unity Group isn't much less tightly arranged than that of The Pat Metheny Group, but crucially there's more room for jammingeven if, on "Sign of the Season," it's just in predetermined intervals. Saxophonist Chris Potter
plays with great vibrancy there, as he does throughout this album, and when the entire ensemble kicks in during "Adagia," there's a great sense of excitement emanating from the playing, the crystal clear sonics do not render the sound antiseptic.
Over the years, Pat Metheny Group recordings have become, perhaps not surprisingly, too orchestrated for their own good, and if the acoustic guitars on "Adagia" are somewhat (all too?) familiar, in the context of the Unity Group they become a means to the end of a more exciting group dynamic, rather than merely textural contrast. The aural presence of orchestrionics and guitar synthesizer, while not surprising by any means either, also resonate with a sense of play in the bandleader's hands (and heart). Even these high-tech instruments are warmed by the humanity that surrounds them.
Therein lies the distinction of the Pat Metheny Unity Group. Even more so than on its predecessor, there's a palpable sense of the music flowing from one track to another, as if in extended, shared moments of spontaneity. While the glowing guitar of "Rise Up" gives way to a scalding hot sax solo that lifts the cut off the ground, it's the combustible presence of bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez that then becomes prominent in navigating the group, the heat they generate further counteracting the cerebral sounds of new member Giulio Carmassi's instrument of choice: he plays multiple horns, keyboards and percussion, and sings in a familiar, airy voice as well.
As expertly produced (as well as composed and arranged) by Metheny, it's impossible to say what a studio recording alone will say in the short and long term on his audience, not to mention the future of The Unity Group. Though both aficionados and critics may find Kin (<>)
a watered-down microcosm of his entire body of work, if this new approach evolves with such purity of intent, then it should attract new listeners as much as it will retain established fans. And if the result of that process is that additional music lovers will follow Methenyeven if not every project suits their tastethen that's also laudable. Metheny never ceases to surprise; it's just the extent of the surprise that needs to be measured.