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Speaking of Now is burdened by following what may have been the Pat Metheny Group's most creative and exemplary album, Imaginary Day. For the first time in almost 20 years, there is a change in the band's core membership. Gone is Paul Wertico and his crystalline ride cymbal work, as integral to the Metheny sound as the guitarist's own round, ghostly tone. The versatile young Antonio Sanchez takes his place and performs admirably; he doesn't strive to redefine the band's sound, rather he successfully assimilates the Wertico style. Also new to the group is vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Richard Bona and trumpeter Cuong Vu.
The album starts off well enough with the likeable "As It Is," beginning with a light, sauntering backbeat and jangling acoustic guitar riffs and building to the soaring chorus we've come to expect from the Metheny/Mays writing team. Other highlights include the epic composition "A Place in the World" - very similar in structure if not in emotional impact to "The First Circle" - and "On Her Way," for its sunny disposition and a particularly inspired solo by Metheny. "Another Life" seems to be something altogether new for the group. Multitracked vocals form a chorale which is interspersed with gentle ensemble playing. The song is quite lovely, and Metheny deserves credit for further incorporating the creative use of the human voice into the usually segregated instrumental jazz world.
Unfortunately, too many tunes on the album are less satisfying. The overlong "Proof" bogs down with an awkward polyrhythmic melodic section and some rather directionless improvisation from trumpeter Vu. "The Gathering Sky" begins with an ebullient piano/bass melodic line over light hand percussion, but suddenly a rhythmic modulation detours into a much faster, ominous-sounding section, completely destroying the good vibes of the tune's buoyant beginnings. "You" and "Afternoon" feature the gentle, lithe voice of Richard Bona, but his vocalizing is full of unusual consonants that sometimes distract from the simple grace of the melodies he sings.
In the end, Speaking of Now is somewhat disappointing due to the inconsistency of the writing and a general lack of the creativity that practically explodes out of Imaginary Day. Clearly we should expect more than solid playing and slick production from the Pat Metheny Group.
Track Listing: 1. As It Is, 2. Proof, 3. Another Life, 4. The Gathering Sky, 5. You, 6. On Her Way, 7. A Place in the World, 8. Afternoon, 9. Wherever You Go
Personnel: Pat Metheny (acoustic, electric & synth guitars), Lyle Mays (acoustic piano, keyboards), Steve Rodby (acoustic bass), Richard Bona (vocals, percussion), Cuong Vu (trumpet, vocals), Antonio Sanchez (drums)