When Pat Metheny releases an album there is always a risk. Are you going to get searing, goose bump raising jazz licks, or something not unlike lift music? Are you going to get one man and his guitar, alone, creating amazing musical journeys out of a single tune, or one man and a large pile of machinery sucking the life out of what could have been great tunes?
Over the years I’ve enjoyed some Pat Metheny releases a lot more than others. ‘Bright Size Life’ from 1975 is a masterclass in trio playing, whether you like jazz or not (or indeed whether you give a monkey’s about the term). The ‘One Quiet Night’ album on solo, baritone guitar is quite mellow but so inventive you wallow in the sounds he creates. It’s a beautiful album. The Pat Metheny Group album ‘Up’ was a feast of ideas and the live shows left you gasping at the way a group could keep your interest in such complex music without tiring you out.
But then invention can also let you down. The Orchestrion album took great tunes and left them sounding, unsurprisingly, mechanical. Even the Grammy Award winning ‘What’s it all About’ solo CD was only sporadically great. Not a let down as such but missing a certain spark.
So, a few days ago I listened, with trepidation to the new Unity Band album. This, I soon discovered, is an album that burns. Guitar, bass, drums and, rare for PM, sax playing together as a band with no added guest spots. Even the dread Orchestrion machine doesn’t diminish the power of the album. Actually the track (Signals) that features the Orchestrion is stunningly good, probably because it’s integrated with ‘real’ musicians.
This is a wonderful, lively, brilliantly refreshing album that made me cheer, literally. As soon as it was over I put it on again. Forty years in the music business has not found Metheny losing his touch it seems. Now all I’m wondering is, will we get more from this band. Where can they go from here?