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Pat Metheny Unity Group:

Ian Patterson By

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Nine years after the Pat Metheny Group crowned its mammoth The Way Up (Nonesuch, 2005) tour before 100,000 people at the Montreal Jazz Festival, it seems increasingly unlikely that Metheny will reconvene his main vehicle, not now with a vibrant new group pushing him compositionally and slaying audiences. Or does it? In a 2012 interview with All About Jazz , drummer Antonio Sanchez—who has worked closely with Metheny for a dozen years—said of the PMG: "everybody is craving another go around." It could yet happen, for the 40th anniversary just around the corner in 2017, for example.

In his 40-year career, however, Metheny hasn't shown much inclination for nostalgia. He seeks new challenges, invests himself fully in mining their possibilities, and, once satiated, moves on to fresh creative environments. With the PMUG's impressive debut Unity Band (Nonesuch, 2012) and now Kin (<—>), saxophonist/multi-instrumentalist Chris Potter has brought a new dimension to Metheny's writing, while the quartet has expanded to a quintet with the arrival of one-man band Giulio Carmassi. The music here is lean and somewhat orchestral, but that said, the PMUG rather resembles the old PMG at times.

Camarassi's incorporation accentuates the comparison. Playing numerous instruments, whistling and singing, the Italiian in effect plays the PMG roles of pianist Lyle Mays, trumpeter Cuong Vu and vocalist Pedro Aznar combined—which is surely not coincidental. As significant as his involvement is, however, Camarassi's presence is subtle—like the ghosts of the PMG gently stirred from slumber. The hand claps on the intro to the epic opener "On Day One" are strongly evocative of the title track from First Circle (ECM, 1984) yet tellingly on this fifteen-minute stunner there's no place for a piano solo as Metheny and Potter wrestle playfully with the bones.

Piano is entirely restricted to rhythmic comping duties, which represents the greatest evolution from the PMG to the PMUG. After 28 years molding the music of the PMG in conjunction with Mays, Metheny has wrested himself from such close compositional orbit with the piano. Melody remains, as ever, one of the cornerstones of Metheny's music and the gently soaring "Sign of the Season," the gorgeous, brushes-coaxed ballad "Born" and the smooth, seductive contours of "We Go On" are as memorable as any melodies in Metheny's long discography.

For a quintet with such firepower a surprising degree of delicacy abounds: the semi-classical "Adagia" is a typical Metheny slice of acoustic reverie; Sanchez' brushes softly stir the cheery ballad "Kqu," with Metheny taking a delightfully relaxed solo, and even the upbeat "Rise Up," with its underlying flamenco verve, contains islands of repose out of which Metheny and Potter build slowly. There's fire aplenty too: Metheny's guitar-synth solo and Sanchez's stormy conclusion on the title track both ripple with sinewy strength; Potter flies on "Sign of the Season," and the vignette "Genealogy" is a stormy bebop teaser.

On a couple of tracks, notably "Born," a deep thrum akin almost to a male-voice choir can be discerned. It wouldn't take a great leap of the imagination to hear choral arrangements of Metheny's music—one of the few areas he has still to investigate.

There's arguably less intense heat in the playing compared to Unity Band and greater emphasis instead on melodic contours—and beautiful they are too. For sure, Kin (<—>) is one of the most satisfyingly melodic albums Metheny has ever recorded and one likely to seduce many new followers to his already legion fans.

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