Pat Metheny ‘The Unity Sessions’ 2CD [separate DVD available] (Nonesuch) 4/5

pat-methenyAfter two recent albums with the Unity band, Pat Metheny returns with a live (minus any audience) recording that works as a de facto résumé of his career, revisiting some of the ECM favourites, and with a strong folk flavour to the guitar playing. While not quite on a par with the atmospheric ‘Travels’, and lacking, perhaps, the intimacy of the early noughties trio albums, this is an album nonetheless crammed full of dazzling virtuosity, and one that will surely not disappoint long-term Metheny fans.
Co-produced by the leader and Steve Rodby, the present incarnation of the Pat Metheny group are bang on song on the moody, mid-tempo groove of ‘Sign of the season’, with gorgeous bass line and sweet guitar licks from the maestro. Flowing, cascading notes are a Metheny trademark and they are in plentiful supply throughout. A percussive intro to the epic fifteen minute, On day one’, is an album highlight with a lightness of touch on piano by Guilio Carmasai and melodic guitar riffs that recall the late 1970s ECM recordings of the leader. A genuine high point is reached with a stunning interpretation of ‘Two folk songs’, that originally graced the ’80/81′ album and strumming guitar and warm tenor effortlessly interweave here. The jazz standard, ‘Cherokee’, is treated to a compelling guitar meets tenor saxophone duet between Metheny and Chris Potter. Fans of the Metheny-Ornette Coleman collaboration will marvel at, ‘Police Police’, a number that was included on the extended twentieth anniversary edition of their album together, while the uplifting ‘This belongs to me’, showcases the polyrhythmic strengths of the band that is constantly open to new ideas, as befitting any Pat Metheny project. This latest live recording marks a new phase in the leader’s career and Metheny seems to be genuinely refreshed having been surrounded by a new coterie of talented musicians who stretch each other to the outer limits. Pat Metheny Unity group with genial British pianist Gwilym Simcock guesting have just this past week completed four nights at Ronnie Scott’s proving to be one of the live jazz highlights of the summer.

Tim Stenhouse