Metheny has been prolific throughout his life, recording with many of the great jazz musicians of our time, such as Ornette Coleman, Herbie Hancock and Jim Hall, as well as classical musicians such as Steve Reich. His output has also been prolific with albums in the jazz trio format, as well as film soundtracks, experimental recordings like ‘Zero tolerance of silence’ on the Geffen label, works for ballet and his own ‘Pat Metheny Group’.
The Pat Metheny Group features Metheny’s more than twenty-year writing partnership with keyboardist Lyle Mays and their work with bassist Steve Rodby. The Mays-Metheny partnership has been compared to many of the great contemporary writing partnerships and has resulted in albums such as ‘Still life still talking’, ‘Letter from Home’, ‘Secret Story’, ‘Imaginary Day’ and ‘We live here’. These albums have consistently won awards including three gold albums and even an amazing seven consecutive Grammy awards for seven consecutive albums! With a track record like this it is not surprising that fans of this group wait with baited breath for the next installment in the group’s legacy.
On ‘Speaking of Now’ the line-up of the group has changed and consequently they have approached the compositions from a different angle. The band now features Pat Metheny on guitar and other instruments, Lyle Mays on keyboards and piano, Steve Rodby on bass, and three new players, Cuong Vu on trumpet and voice, Richard Bona on voice and percussion and Antonio Sanchez on drums. In any group format a change in members can often result in the growth or demise of a project, but with a writing team like Mays and Metheny growth is really the only option. Many artists will try to mould new members into the previously accepted format and not necessarily accentuate the new players abilities, however, Metheny and Mays have succeeded in bringing the abilities of the new musicians to the fore.
In the new group drummer Antonio Sanchez replaces the previous drummer Paul Wertico. He brings a new energy to the group; through his vibrant playing he turns the excitement and momentum up a notch, while still exhibiting sensitive interaction with the existing players. To compliment this new addition Metheny found other additions to the band in multi-instrumentalist Richard Bona, who hails from the Cameroon, as well as the New York trumpet player and vocalist Cuong Vu. What characterizes Metheny in life and a musician is his great humility. This was evident when he commented that after approaching these outstanding musicians to play for his group; he was often surprised that they wanted to work with him. This kind of attitude shines through in the recording in the way that each of the players seem to feel free to express themselves, and the resulting performances are at times breathtaking and overwhelmingly beautiful.
The albums nine tracks take you on a journey through country melodies, amazing vocal harmonies, spacious piano solos, bebop influences and of course mind blowing guitar work. If you don’t yet own an album by the ‘Pat Metheny Group’ this is a great place to start. I have three personal favorites on this album. Track three "Another Life" for the inspiring vocal introduction with influences from Gregorian chant, track four "The Gathering Sky" for the interesting and innovative arrangement in the drum work and track six "On Her Way" for the trademark virtuosic Metheny guitar solos. All in all this album not only lives up to the groups legacy but lifts the standard while still remaining accessible enough to take all of us on an amazing sonic journey with them.