CD review: Pat Metheny Unity Group

Ever since his recording debut as a leader early in 1976 (Bright Size Life, ECM) with bassist Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses on drums, the man from Missouri is credited with reinventing the so-called traditional sound of jazz guitar for a new generation.

This album features the same stellar line-up which received a 20th grammy for Metheny in 2012 — he has been nominated in 12 different categories winning in ten of them — and now the ensemble has gone from being a Unity Band to a Unity Group. The difference? Well, apart from the addition of multi-instrumentalist Giuilio Carmassi, Kin is a much tighter affair. There’s still the fantastic sax sounds of Chris Potter along with bassist Ben Williams and Antonio Sanchez on drums but this quintet delivers a big-band sound where the music is far more orchestral and cinematic in its delivery.

Mention of Mr Metheny for many means two things: a complex, clever and arty jazz guitarist constantly entertaining fans as he explores the soundscape, or an exponent of the instrument whose music is neither chalk nor cheese as he delivers his unique brand of jazzy rocklite music. Even among those who ‘get’ his music he has confounded many with his Orchestrion album, where with the help of engineers and various hi-tech wizards, he created an orchestrion to make the ultimate one-man band.

However, this is a different kettle of fish: from the opener, ‘On Day One’ with its intro of Sanchez’s shimmering cymbals, Potter’s teasing tenor, some hand-clapping and Williams’s bass, we are taken on a roller coaster ride full of thrills but few spills. The joyous and aptly named ‘Rise Up’ begins with the hopeful and upbeat acoustic strumming of Metheny before Potter soars magnificently on soprano sax and along with the ‘On Day One’, ‘Sign of the Season’ and the title track ‘Kin (<—>)’, forms the backbone of the album.

There are some tracks which, despite all the virtuosity, fail to inspire (especially ‘Adagio’ and the 39 second teaser, ‘Genealogy’) but they are offset by the soulful ‘We Go On’ and more especially the beautiful ballad ‘Born’ which for our money is the outstanding piece, with the possible exception of the title track, on the album.


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