There's something deeply romantic about the music of "Speaking of Now". It strongly recalls to me the Pat Metheney Group's great album of 1984, "First Circle", previously my favourite of all their output.
The more complex and upbeat numbers, like "As it is", Proof", and "The Gathering Sky" are counterbalanced by wonderful lyrical ballards, heart-rendingly sung by Richard Bona: "You", and "Another Life".
The concert opens with Pat's solo reworking of "Last Train Home" and a McLaughlinesque guitar/ drums duet "Go Get It". Towards the end, a moving guitar/piano duet "A map of the World/ In her Family" evokes calm and tranquility.
Insensatez (How Insensitive) by Tom Jobim is covered, giving Steve Rodby a very rare bass solo. This is not on the CD, but its inclusion here sums up what I like about this gig. We are relaxed, having fun, deep into some of the world's most beautiful music.
Throughout this concert, the playing is close to flawless. Special mention of Antonio Sanchez' drum solo in "The Gathering Sky" is mandatory. This is seriously clever drumming: four distinct patterns simultaneously at one point!
Another special mention is due to Richard Bona's multi-layered vocal introduction to the anthemic "On Her Way". This tune courses us rapidly from Central Africa via an intimate Jazz club to a church hall, ultimately ending up with a sublime receding hook.
It's wonderful to see the trumpet taking a leading voice in this unique band; an architypal Jazz instrument being rightly honoured. Cuong Vu has all the facility of a master trumpeter. Typically of Pat Metheny Group, he has also extended the instruments' expressive range adding a host of wind-like noises to its voice.
Tribute must also go to the Korean audience on both this disc and "The Way Up Live". Unlike so many, these never noisily interrupt the music, and allow the group to go right down to a whisper without spoiling it. Yet after hot solos, they applaud as warmly as any Americans would.
Among a suite of such strong compositions, there are many favourites. I play different selections on different days depending on my mood. From up-and-at-'em to introspection, the whole spectrum of musical expression is here.
This is the gig of my (new) favourite album by a peerless group of exploring musicians.