Pat Metheny Unity Group – Kin [<-->] (2014)

Over the course of Pat Metheny‘s long and erudite career, I’ve considered his non-Metheny Group side projects as mostly separate, with little or no musical/stylist overlap. By this I mean that Metheny doesn’t tend to bring the PMG sound into his work with others, nor does he pull in the noisier bits from his more freewheeling work (I’m thinking Song X here) back into “The Group” setting. Obvious counterexamples include the guitar synth-driven “The Calling,” which seemed like an outlier amidst 1984′s Rejoicing. More recently, Imaginary Day‘s grinding and metallic “Roots of Coincidence” should be considered.

Even more rare are sonic elements from the Pat Metheny Group (guitar synthesizer and Pikasso guitar excepted) showing up elsewhere. With the release of Kin (<-->), Metheny has brought in more than a few “Group” elements to what is essential a straight ahead jazz project.

Very often the secret weapon in a Metheny ensemble is the drummer. For the longest time, that’s been Antonio Sanchez. This time around, it’s the presence of multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi, whose percussion, vocal, vibes, and trumpet work (to say nothing of piano, trombone, French horn, recorder, various saxophones, cello, Wurlitzer, and whistling!) have expanded the Unity Group’s sonic palette in a very obvious way.

The fusion of Metheny group eras begins in earnest with “On Day One,” with the shifting chord changes lifted by Carmassi’s chiming accents. After the rhythm section drives Chris Potter to great heights on his saxophone solo, we have a soaring conclusion featuring Carmassi’s wordless vocals. It’s hard not to think of Pedro Aznar and “The First Circle” here. On “Rise Up,” the percussion and hand claps during the opening moments are reminiscent of Imaginary Day‘s “The Heat Of The Day,” though we are then treated to a duet of percussion and Pat’s furious acoustic strumming. An almost shockingly tight percussion break just before the 1:30 mark whips the song straight into its main theme. Really exhilarating stuff here.

None of this is to imply that Kin (<-->) lacks straight ahead jazz elements. To the contrary, there is the beautiful blues of Born with both Metheny and Potter taking focused and impossible expressive solos. There’s also the short but angular Genealogy, which is reminiscent of an Ornette Coleman/Don Cherry thing with Carmassi’s trumpet rounding out the sharp unison trio.

It’s not hard to find the kind of long-form melodic development (a la The Way Up) that Metheny is known for. On “Sign Of The Season,” just about everybody gets in on the act, the highlight being a Ben Williams bass solo that takes the song’s hook and exacts every bit of harmonic goodness to be found there. The title track takes us on a similar trip. With more than enough room for improvisational segments, we have Pat taking a particularly volcanic guitar synth solo as the Orchestrionics sweep back and forth across the sound stage. Then Potter and Williams take over, culminating in a brilliant trading of fours between the sax and bowed bass. The composition ends with waves emanating from the kit of Sanchez as Metheny and Potter drop in echoes underneath.

Did Pat Metheny intend to compose a suite of tunes that reminded us of the Pat Metheny Group, though presented within a completely different context? I sort of doubt it. Maybe I just miss that PMG sound. Or maybe the Unity Group is so good they make it hard not to extrapolate.

Or maybe I just can’t help myself.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he writes several weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.