God help me I want to like this...I don't dislike it...But I walk away feeling like I just saw a great movie and somewhere along the way the film broke and has been spliced together. This is Metheny's first attempt at recording with a tenor saxophonist since 1980 - 32 years and it sounds every bit of it. Don't get me wrong, Chris Potter makes me realize the best use of my tenor is that of a lovely planter when it comes to pure performance. Bass phenom Ben Williams and Antonio Sanchez hook up for an amazing rhythm section that sounds as though they have played together longer then young Williams has been on the planet. Pat Metheny is technically proficient and bordering on amazing in sections but from a compositional standpoint may have run out of things to say. All this aside, a good recording but not a great recording. Oddly reminescent of a :60 second movie trailer where the best of 90 minutes is shaved down to the minimalist highlights. Never allow artistic hype to over take the art of listening for what you may be searching for.
The Unity Band is and has been an idea on the back burner for Metheny for some time but the 30 year gap between this as his next most similar record 80/81 make for a somewhat cold and sterile transition. Chris Potter is perhaps the most under rated saxophonist I could think of to fill the shoes of Michael Brecker and while he does so admirably and with great flair there still seems to be an issue of chemistry. Metheny is on record extolling the chemistry and virtuosity of the band members which is certainly not questioned but there is an artistic disconnect for me that simply leaves me wanting more. I like what I get but I don't love it.
Metheny wrote a significant portion of new tunes for this all star line up but the ebb and flow is also somewhat static in points, especially with "Signals (Orchestrion Sketch)." This is seemingly a melody in search of a tune. A free form direction with no forward motion of sense of purpose of any kind. Two particularly impressive tunes are "Come And See" and "Then And Now" and had the release been built around the more traditional Metheny flavor that encapsulates each of these gems then the overall feel may have been a little more cohesive for my tastes. Cutting new ground is great but not a hodgpodge or a musical train wreck by any remote stretch of the imagination, the release simply does not match the initial hype coming from some of the more mainstream critical publications that haven taken a critical swipe at this release so far.
Metheny fans will and should flock to this release. Those with a passing interest or enjoy digging a little deeper before making a purchase should at least sample this in some fashion before snatching a copy based on name alone.
Good. Not great...But light years better than Orchestrion however falling short of the depth of 80/81. Unity Band does find a musical happy place somewhere in between the past and the present. Look before leaping...I am oddly reminded of an Obama press conference with this one. Long on promise, initially sounds good but let's see how it holds up over the long haul.
3.5 Stars out of 5.
Tracks: New Year; Roofdogs; Come And See; This Belongs To You; Leaving Town; Interval Waltz; Signals; Then And Now; Breakdealer.
Personnel: Pat Metheny: guitar(s); Chris Potter: tenor saxophone; Ben Williams: bass; Antonio Sanchez: drums.