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A freewheeling record of incendiary soloing - but not Metheny's best work compositionally
on 16 February 2014
Every record Metheny puts out is different and it takes time to absorb what he has put in front of us rather than measuring the work against your expectations as a fan and listener. Expectations were very high for what seemed like would be his most major release and tour since The Way Up.
The man is of course a wonderful composer, with tracks like Are You Going With Me and So May It Secretly Begin in his back catalogue, and even the first Unity Band recording having several great compositions, to name just one, the opening track New Year.
I don't feel the tracks on this record will ever feature on a list of his greatest compositions (the gospel-like 'Born' being the strongest candidate), they work better as loose frameworks from which a group of incredibly talented musicians break out for extended solos which are, in turn, lyrical, reflective, incendiary and hard-swinging.
Chris Potter is on fire throughout as you would expect from his last outing with the Unity Band. I would single out his hook-filled, gutsy solo on track 2 as a highlight.
Ben Williams comes to the fore on several occasions, most remarkably on the (six string?) electric bass solo on the first track, which sounds like he has completely absorbed Metheny's own musicality. But he also features on acoustic bass, for example in the beautiful, reflective section with the piano on track 4.
Giulio Carmassi mostly provides extra texture. There is only one point where the vocals really come to the fore - at the end of the first track - but this is a wonderful and moving climax to a track that has already featured extended solos from Metheny, Williams and Potter, and so Carmassi caps what could well be the highlight of the whole record.
Antonio Sanchez is as busy, inventive, and driving as ever.
Metheny himself, as expected, provides some wonderful soloing, whether it be the hard swinging electric solo on track 2 or the extended synth solo on track 5, which initially sounds like nothing he hasn't played before, but then progresses to something special and leads into another great break from Potter. Maybe this record isn't the greatest ever showcase of Metheny's talents, he almost seems a little reserved, as though he wants to give his stellar bandmates a chance to shine. But then we are so continually spoiled for examples of his incredible playing, whether it be his exhilarating electric guitar soloing on last year's Tap, or his beautiful acoustic playing with Charlie Haden on the soundtrack of the current film release Living is Easy With Eyes Closed.
This band is going to be amazing live! But, if you're one of those who is going to stand there and moan that Lyle Mays and Pedro Aznar should be on stage with him, or leave to catch the last tube rather than calling for another encore from this most generous of performers, then please don't bother coming. You'll only spoil it for the rest of us who are in thrall with every twist and turn in this man's amazing career.