Arguably one of Metheny’s best releases in recent times.
Kevin Le Gendre 2012
Although the obvious selling point here is that this is the first time in over three decades that the guitarist, part of the elite coterie of jazz artists under 60 who can sell out concert halls, has featured a tenor saxophonist in his band, there are other things to bear in mind. For a start, the incumbent, Chris Potter, is a multi-reed virtuoso who is as adept on soprano as he is bass clarinet, and both instruments bring a significant richness to the sound palette of what is arguably one of Metheny’s best releases in recent times.
This is a new ensemble that also features a first-time Metheny collaborator, double bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez, who has been playing with the guitarist for the past 10 years. Given the credentials of all of the above – credits run from McCoy Tyner to Dave Holland, to name but some – it is no surprise that playing standards are flawlessly high; so the real question is whether there is any chemistry in the ensemble as well as a sufficiently strong repertoire.
The answer is yes, in both cases. Sanchez and Williams form a potent but flexible, often highly percussive pivot, especially when the drummer supplements his main time signature with layers of African-style 6/8 on a cowbell or wood block. This lends a subtle dynamism. Tunes wise, Metheny has recovered some of the folk-like beauty that defined early albums like 1982’s Offramp and there are more than a few moments when that distinctive blend of soaring, full-bodied melodies and vaguely Celtic timbres from the guitar-synthesiser push all the right emotional buttons. That said, this new work is also a clever composite of other strands of Metheny’s wide-ranging discography, and the hypnotic serial figures that define Signals are a reminder that he once collaborated with Steve Reich.
Metheny’s virtuosity is not the only reason why he is an international star: a pop sensibility has won him a non-jazz audience. Said crowd will be charmed by the track Leaving Town, whose bright, jaunty energy makes it a worthy successor to the classic James.