DVD review: PAT METHENY – The Unity Sessions

PAT METHENY – The Unity Sessions

Eagle Rock Entertainment [Release date 18.09.15]

From the Frank Zappa meets Ornette Coleman style cacophonous intro, via fractured staccato runs and tension building pieces of musical diversity, Pat Metheny announces his intentions to expand his musical canvas to the limit.

Metheny and his virtuoso players overcome the self imposed obstacles of complex music, The Orchestrion  – a guitar triggered electronic mini orchestra – the unique on-stage camera angles and rigorously pre-planning, to triumph with the kind breathtaking interplay that fusion musicians dream about.

The tightly regulated suite of music derives its spirit and drive from accomplishing the very musical vision he sets before the band. Metheny himself is a catalyst, an innovator and an inspiring musician who pushes his ensemble to greater heights.

The band interlocks and grooves on the extended ‘On Day One’, as Pat’s meandering guitar lines are cushioned by Antonio Sanchez’s exuberant cymbal splashes, while bass player Ben Williams glues everything together.

The intimate camera shots add to the intensity of the music, as evidenced by sax player Potter’s focused concentration as he shares double lines with Metheny. A percussive break ushers the band into a sonorous groove which Metheny colours with deep tones.

‘The Unity Sessions’ is a step up for Metheny, as he explores several musical styles as part of his complex musical vision that is beautifully shaped by a magnificent band whose level of commitment to excellence is constantly illustrated on pieces that twist and turn and change their shape.

The shifting tempo’s frequently build momentum and take band in different directions, though they always find their way back to the beginning in a coherent fashion. The project works simply because the band has that rare ability to step outside of itself and celebrate a magical musical moment.

The intuitively connected musicianship means the session ebbs and flows, making ‘Unity’ a true representation of Pat Metheny’s vision and craft. The intimate camera shots – a glimpses of a cymbal ride here, a gently strummed chord there, or a nimble bass solo from Williams as an example of his cool presence in a high octane outfit –  illuminates an intrinsic musical flow.

The solo acoustic guitar intro of ‘Come And See’  is anything but simple, as Metheny tackles a multi neck 42 string guitar from which he derives oriental sounding tones on a piece full of space and time.

He adds ethereal synth guitar sounds on the restless ‘Kin’, on which there’s a curious moment of disconnect as the camera focuses on Metheny’s intense synth guitar solo which sounds like a keyboard.

‘The Unity Sessions’ is a groundbreaking project that successfully pushes the quartet into orchestral regions, embracing electronics and new soundscapes. If there only a limited amount of emotional engagement, there’s still no denying the magical moments when a combination of horn player Chris Potter’s body language and his full blown cheeks collide with Williams’s feverishly bowed bass to draw us into the heart of the music.

The beautifully played and superbly filmed ‘Born’ brings light relief and includes an amazing camera shot of the neck of Ben Williams’ double bass.  The after hours, brush stroked bluesy waltz turns into something different again, as the band fills the melody line.

Metheny switches to acoustic on ‘Rise Up’, a percussive jazzy work out with real tonal depth, while Adagia’  is a reflective acoustic solo link-piece and ‘Sign Of The Season’ has a sonorous feel offset by intricate percussion from The Orchestrion.

If the album loses a little impetus at this point , its probably because there’s simply too much to digest, but Metheny duly responds with a drop-down that features his warm guitar notes over the deftest of percussion to draws us back into Potter’s soprano line, as The Orchestrion percolates gently in the background.

‘Go Get It’ is a sudden rupture – all sharp, angular guitar lines over an incredible drum pattern – as the band rocks out and Metheny ‘s acoustic sounds almost like an electric violin! Then there’s the prepared duet ‘Cherokee’  on which Metheny and Potter interplay sounds like an animated conversation.

‘The Unity Sessions’ demands patience and understanding. It’s a DVD that aims high and bursts out of its potential emotional straight jacket to take us on a beguiling musical journey that doesn’t fall very far short of its aims.  By the finish you really do feel as if you’ve shared Metheny’s enchanting musical vision.  ****

Review by Pete Feenstra

Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00

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