A quintet playing a total of around 30 instruments? Even for the audacious Metheny it seems a lot to manage, but not only does he use them all, the result is quintessentially his own. The textures change constantly without sounding cluttered, the rhythms are compelling but unfailingly light and airy, and the tunes are, well, tuneful. Particularly impressive are saxophonist Chris Potter and the extraordinary Giulio Carmassi, who handles 11 instruments, plus singing and a bit of whistling on the side.
“Kin is really the 3D, IMAX, Technicolor version of the Unity Band record,” says Pat Metheny, describing how his latest album compares to the Grammy-winning first recording (made in 2012) by his quartet comprising saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams and drummer Antonio Sanchez. The foursome notched up over 100 gigs around the globe supporting their debut – and discovered that they didn’t want the tour to end. “Everybody got along really well and we just had a lot of fun together,” reveals Metheny.
Since 2005's The Way Up, the final Pat Metheny Group album, the composer and guitarist has been roaming creatively. Recordings include two Metheny/Brad Mehldau collaborations: the hard-swinging Day Trip with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez, and the jazz/modern classical hybrid album Orchestrion, his one-man symphony invention and the first offering by the Unity Band -- with guitarist Sanchez, saxophonist Chris Potter, and bassist Ben Williams, and finally, 2013's great surprise: Tap: John Zorn's Book of Angels, Vol. 20.
Pat Metheny’s 1978 debut album Bright Size Life, now widely appreciated as a classic, is a set of music that is at once both intricate and intimate. As coruscating and beautiful as it is, it gave little indication of the development Metheny would take towards sophisticated and elaborate long form composing for a range of ensemble contexts, from the long-running musical relationship with keyboardist Lyle Mays and the Pat Metheny Group, to the solo machine experiments of the Orchestrion project. Over his enduring career, Metheny has won 20 Grammy awards and is probably the closest thing contemporary jazz has to a star or celebrity figure – yet he remains restless and committed to innovation.
Pat Metheny is a tireless musician. Anyone who doesn’t give him an “A” for effort is too tough a grader. More than that, he has incredible range. While some only know the relatively “smooth” Metheny of the Pat Metheny Group records, this guitarist has done just about everything in jazz, from jazz pop, yes, to acoustic ballads to Ornette Coleman tunes to serious noise experiments.
As he nears 60, Pat Metheny seems ever-hungrier to pack even more musical ideas and technical innovations into each crowded project – interrupted only by last year's inspired and affectingly direct interpretations of John Zorn's Songbooks. With Kin (??), a set of new originals for his talented Unity Group featuring reeds star Chris Potter, now bolstered by the awesome multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Giulio Carmassi, Metheny sounds pulled between hurling in everything he knows and revisiting the songwriting lyricism and cinematic openness that made him one of jazz's most popular stars from the 1970s to the 90s. The later numbers here – including the title track's racing groove and soulfully mournful sax theme, the beautiful ballad Born, the R&B-inflected anthem We Go On and the folk melody and band dialogue on Kqu – bring the classic Pat Metheny Group's leisurely vitality into the 21st century.