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I’m not so sure.
on 9 February 2014
I’d been looking forward to this release for some time. It’s been 9 years since we heard Pat Metheny with a full group alongside him and while comparisons of this new constellation with the erstwhile Pat Metheny Group may be a bit unfair they’re simply unavoidable.
On the whole I think it’s a decent album. I can definitely appreciate the artistry that went into it. I’m just not moved by it though, not in the way past Metheny group albums have moved me. I’m not so sure it merits all the hype and breathless praise that seems to be whirling around on social media about it.
The first thing I noticed about the album was the way it sounds (obvs). I’m not a musician and I’m no expert on sound engineering but I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s down to the way it was mixed, presumably to give the recording a more ‘live’ feel.
It works and on the plus side, there’s a feeling of immediacy to the album. It literally sounds like the group is playing in my living room. On the downside though, the luxuriance and diversity of the soundscapes provided to us by previous recordings are not present here. The sound also gets a bit messy in places. Unlike with the PMG where I would always get the sense that, even in improvised parts, every single note played was carefully placed where it was placed for a reason, I don’t always get that sense with this group.
Don’t get me wrong; these are all excellent musicians. Sanchez is literally jaw-dropping and I’m a huge fan of Chris Potter. But does the whole add up to more than the sum of its parts? Do they actually make a cohesive unit? Do they have real chemistry together? I’m not so sure. At times I can’t make out whether I’m listening to a Chris Potter album or a Pat Metheny one. With all due respect to Potter, is that good?
Overall though, for me, the crucial element of the main Metheny oeuvre that’s very conspicuous in its absence here is Lyle Mays. As another reviewer on Amazon put it: “In no small way Lyle made the Group what it was; he was the catalyst for what allowed PMG to be at once so accessible and yet so ethereal. Lyle was Pat's collaborator in chief, the heart that complemented Pat's heady arrangements, the purveyor of unexpected twists and turns, a gentle eloquent tour-de-force in his own right, and the lead sheet for Pat's best peregrinations as a soloist.”
I couldn't agree more.
I don’t know what the situation is between Metheny and Mays and I wouldn’t dare to speculate, but I hope with all my heart that it’s not terminal. Lyle is Pat's musical soul-mate. As great as Pat is on his own or with other musicians - and he is great indeed - in my humble opinion, he is at his greatest when he’s with Lyle. 2005's "The Way Up" is still one of my favourite albums ever.
I wasn’t particularly enchanted by the Unity Band when I first heard it. A ground-breaking idea, sure, but I found it too sonically threadbare and lacking of any heart. The Unity Group definitely takes things up a notch - vocalist & multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi is a most welcome addition - but for me, it just doesn’t quite hit the spot. In my substantial catalogue of Metheny albums it rates nowhere near the top.
Favourite songs: "Sign Of The Season", an epic, hypnotic 10 min delight; the beautiful almost mournful ballad "Born" and "We Go On".