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Somewhat of a road warrior, guitarist Pat Metheny and his entourage first hit the streets in support of Speaking of Now back in February, subsequently touring through mid summer. Then in September, further dates where announced for a two-month run that included a few select dates in the United States. Such was the occasion of the Metheny Group’s appearance at the historic Ohio Theatre in downtown Columbus, an intimate setting with great sightlines and excellent acoustics. In general, the tunes and routine were pretty much the same as what I had heard when the band appeared in Cleveland back in March. With the house lights yet to be dimmed, Metheny walked on stage solo to run through “Last Train Home,” followed by a free form duet with drummer Antonio Sanchez. The lights then went down and the old favorite “Phase Dance” brought out the rest of the group, thus kicking off a munificent three hour set. The first of two tracks to come from the current album, “Proof” offered a forum for trumpeter Cuong Vu, while “As It Is” brought out some lively synth work from Lyle Mays on the tune’s closing vamp. A bit of a diversion from the group repertoire was a performance of Jobim’s “How Insensitive,” featuring Metheny in the company of just Sanchez and bassist Steve Rodby. In characteristic style, the guitarist built the momentum over several choruses that confirmed his stature as a bona fide technical genius. It was then back to material from Speaking of Now and “The Gathering Sky” served to introduce us to Sanchez’s blistering pyrotechnics. Utilizing his full battery of cymbals, drums, percussion, and a foot-mounted cowbell, the drummer’s four-way independence was dazzling and a real crowd pleaser. “First Circle” touched on earlier triumphs, as would an “Offramp” derivative that highlighted trumpeter Vu in a frenzied spot marked by a multifarious use of electronic sound effects.
Arguably the greatest addition to the new Metheny line-up, Richard Bona’s brilliance was to be found in plenty throughout the evening. His own feature was a vocal tour-de-force that built momentum through the use of tape loops and other technical tricks. Seamlessly, this segued into “On Her Way,” another very charismatic hook-based line from the current album. In homage to Jaco Pastorius, Bona also stepped forward playing electric bass on a trio version of “Bright Size Life.”
Giving us a final opportunity to hear Mays and Bona in extended forays, “Song for Bilbao” would offer the evening’s encore performance and by this point it was obvious that even three hours wasn’t enough time to allow for a completely balanced rendition of Metheny’s vastly capacious bag of originals. One of the group’s finest recorded works, Imaginary Day, was scarcely represented as were all but the most popular items from the earliest releases. This may seem like a minor point, but as his oeuvre becomes larger, there will be even harder choices to be made in selecting an evening’s program. That set aside, Metheny’s generous spirit in terms of the length of his shows is to be commended, as should be his decision to come out front after the show to meet a modest bevy of fans- a rare treat to be certain!