...the usual mix of bright lush synthetic orchestrations, latinesque rhythmic stylings...
Peter Marsh 2002
Though Pat Metheny's solo projects and collaborations have covered the gamut from straight acoustic bop to harmolodic rough n' tumble with Ornette Coleman and free improv with Derek Bailey, the guitarist's group outings have travelled a relatively linear path. You know what you're going to get with a PMG album, and it is going to be pretty. Despite the addition of three new members, New York trumpet luminary Cuong Vu, vocalist Richard Bona (better known as a bassist and leader in his own right) and drummer Antonio Sanchez, the song remains the same on this, the group's 11th album. It's the usual mix of bright, lush synthetic orchestrations, latinesque rhythmic stylings and occasional bouts of restrained fusion flash, topped off by the blurry bebop shapes conjured up by the leader's guitar.
Since the early pastel fusions of American Garage, the PMG's template has become increasingly sophisticated, adding wordless vocals and a more pronounced Brazilian influence, showcased brilliantly on Still Life Talking and Letter from Home. Speaking of Now doesn't stray too far from this formula, though the addition of Vu's trumpet lends another strong solo voice to the ensemble (his poised, ECM-cool improvisation on "Proof" is a highlight).
Predictably, Metheny takes the lion's share of the solos and displays his customary easy brilliance; the airbrushed sheen of the group's music sometimes hides the fact that he's one of the most melodic and inventive jazz guitarists on the planet. Throughout, his improvising is a fountain of melody, teasing out every possible harmonic strategy with stunning rhythmic precision. Yet this isn't just the stuff of Berklee students wet dreams; Metheny's solo flights are suffused with feeling too; full of joyous ebullience in uptempo mode or heart tugging yearning on the slower tunes. He means it, man.
Keyboardist Lyle Mays is a less remarkable improviser, but he shines on "Proof" with an intensely rhapsodic solo, maybe his best to date. Bona's high reedy voice parts echo Metheny's hero Milton Nascimento, while on the tricky time signature shifts of 'The Gathering Sky" Sanchez shows off his considerable chops, giving the PMG a rare kick up the backside; bassist Steve Rodby negotiates the rhythmic intricacies with ease, sticking to Sanchez like glue.
As with other PMG ouput, Speaking of Now can make you feel like you've eaten too many Belgian chocolates as your ears are stuffed with sweet, cloying textures and sunny melodic writing over 72 minutes, but repeated listens reveal whole worlds of intricacy below those sleek surfaces. If it's abstraction or high energy jazz you want, there's plenty of that to be found in Metheny's solo work; the PMG aren't about that, and I for one wouldn't want them any other way. Predictably lovely.