February 20, 2002 by Pat Buzby for jambands.com
More than four years after its last release, the Pat Metheny Group returns with Speaking Of Now. "There arenít many groups around like this anymore, and there havenít been for some time," Metheny comments, and heís quite correct. Few groups explore a broader range of production and composition while maintaining a firm jazz basis, and, at the same time, the record includes the accessible melodies that have made their efforts consistent strong sellers and Grammy winners.
The Group experienced its most dramatic lineup changes in many years when it reconvened in 2001. Methenyís primary collaborators, keyboardist/co-composer Lyle Mays and bassist/co-producer Steve Rodby, remain on board, but the new Group includes three fresh faces : drummer Antonio Sanchez, percussionist/vocalist Richard Bona (who, although known for his Jaco-reborn fretless bass work with Joe Zawinul and others, was happy to renounce that position in this group), and trumpeter/vocalist Cuong Vu. To this listener, then, it seemed ironic that the new record seems more relaxed than the PMGís 90ís studio efforts, which featured mostly familiar personnel, but which sported a number of un-PMG like sounds such as hip-hop beats or distorted guitars.
Metheny, though, sees things differently. "My perspective on things is just bizarre, of course," he admits, before offering his view : "The basic premise of the Group has been more or less continuous from the start, which is to try to have a band that addressed form in a way that we hadnít seen too much of in small-group jazz. Included in that was the idea of involving this incredible revolution thatís been happening in the world of musical instrument technology. That original idea has manifested itself in different ways over the years, but thereís always been this common thread to it. The question is: what can we do as a band that Iím not really hearing anybody else doing? That usually involves some way of looking at form, or the idea of using different kinds of guitars or, in Lyleís case, the synths or the Synclavier. But whether you do it on Synclav or piano or guitar is secondary to the notes you end up with on music paper."
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