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Pat Metheny: The Unity Sessions

Mark Sullivan By

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Guitarist/composer Pat Metheny felt the urge to make a more traditional record with a horn plus rhythm section when he assembled what became the Unity Band in 2012. Everyone was having such a great time that they went on to make the KIN album as the Unity Group (Nonesuch, 2014), with the quartet augmented by utility player Giulio Carmassi. Metheny has customarily documented his bands with a live concert film, but this time he made The Unity Sessions in a theater with cameras in place of a live audience. It's an approach that translates especially well to audio-only release. While the energy that comes from audience interaction must surely be lacking, so is the possibility of extraneous audience noise. It's easy to think of it as an end of tour "best of" recorded live in a studio.

Since this was recorded at the end of the KIN tour with the expanded lineup, it's only natural that the set list leans heavily on that album, including seven of the nine tracks. But it's notable that the running order differs from both the original album and the film. Metheny and co-producer Steve Rodby both seem to have learned a lot about sequencing from ECM's Manfred Eicher, who they worked with on several earlier Pat Metheny Group releases. This is a double-CD album, so there is space for plenty of additional material from the Unity Band album (Nonesuch, 2012), as well as other previous Pat Metheny recordings.

A cursory examination of the running times shows that the compositions must be pretty fixed. There's simply no space in the arrangements for a live rendition to differ greatly from the original recording. But there's no denying the energy that comes from long familiarity with the material. "On Day One" opened the KIN album. It's the seventh track on the first CD here, but it has a spirit only hinted at in the studio recording, with the whole band actively participating in the rhythmic opening section. The other KIN selections are similarly energized, as are the tracks from Unity Band.

The first non-Unity piece is also the only completely new entry: a loose, fleet interpretation of the jam session staple "Cherokee" by Metheny and Chris Potter on tenor saxophone. Metheny's nylon string solo "Medley" closes the first disc here, a broad selection of his best-known tunes, including "Phase Dance," "Minuano (Six Eight)," "Midwestern Night's Dream," "This is Not America," "Omaha Celebration" and "Last Train Home."

The second disc includes the obligatory 42-string Pikasso guitar introduction on "Come And See." "Police People" revisits the opening tune from the Twentieth Anniversary edition of Song X (Nonesuch, 2005), Metheny's collaboration with one of his heroes, saxophonist/composer Ornette Coleman. "Two Folk Songs (#1)" comes from 80/81 (ECM, 1980), Metheny's only previous traditional horn with rhythm date as a leader. Much shorter version here, but the feel is similar, and the tune remains one of Metheny's most singable themes. The set closes with "Go Get It" from Trio 99 > 00 (Warner Bros., 2000), the duet with drummer Antonio Sanchez that won the 2000 Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Solo.

There is no compelling reason to buy this set if you own the film: the running order is different, but there is no new material. For fans of the Unity Group and Band releases it offers energetic, lived-in versions of much of that repertoire, plus several interesting side trips into (mostly) older Pat Metheny releases.

Track Listing: Adagia; Sign of the Season; This Belongs to You; Roofdogs; Cherokee; Genealogy; On Day One; Medley; Come and See; Police People; Two Folk Songs (#1); Born; Kin; Rise Up; Go Get It.

Personnel: Pat Metheny: electric and acoustic guitars, guitar synth, electronics, orchestrionics; Chris Potter: tenor sax, soprano sax, bass clarinet, flute, guitar; Antonio Sanchez: drums and cajon; Ben Williams: acoustic and electric basses; Giulio Carmassi: piano, flugelhorn, whistling, synth, vocals.

Title: The Unity Sessions | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records


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