At some point it must have dawned on Pat Metheny that in order to do jazz fusion, a keyboard player is a necessity, not a luxury. That epiphany apparently happened between the release of the Unity Band CD, and the new Unity Group CD, (complete with keyboard player named Guilio Carmassi, who in polymath fashion plays a dozen other things as well, and does all the singing). The result is much better. While the Unity Band CD had its moments, it frankly was much less satisfying than the new CD, and not even close to some of the Metheny classics like The Way Up, or Letter from Home.
Perhaps one will say that we have been spoiled by the lyricism of the jazz fusion albums by Pat and Lyle Mays and co. but frankly lyricism is what really has distinguished Metheny from other jazz guitarists, and his ability to write gorgeous melodic numbers, even extended into symphony like form in The Way Up. I do not really know what has gone down between Metheny and Mays but if there was a tiff, they need to kiss and make up. Experimentation with other permutations and combinations of music and musicians is fine, and there have been some interesting experiments like the Orchestrion experiment along the way, but frankly Metheny needs someone like Lyle Mays the same way Lennon needed McCartney. Separately they were good, but never better than when they were together.
As for the new CD, it has its moments. There are two nice ballads on the CD— Adagia and Born, and there are some extended sections of the more up tempo numbers that go on for a long while (On Day One is over 15 minutes long) and have some excellent sections to them. It is not clear to me however that the addition of the woodwinds with ever blaring saxaphones of one sort or another, trumpets, and clarinets helps all that much. It makes the music more shrill, rather than providing more thrill. And for no apparent reason there is one 38 second number of avant guard type jazz, as if to say “we’re doing this just to show you we can”. It adds to the disjointed nature of this CD.
This album cannot be called a complete return to form for Pat Metheny, but it is certainly miles better than his hommage to Mr. Zorn, and some better than the original Unity Band CD. At some juncture we may hope he will get the old band back together. This band he has now is technically excellent, but not capable of producing epiphanic moments such as I witnessed in NYC when the Pat Metheny Group performed the whole of The Way Up in the first half of an exhilirating concert. Now that, was Pat Metheny at his best.
KIN is definitely not bad. But it is no kin to The Way Up, Letter from Home, Secret Story, Off Ramp, or even One Quiet Night. The problem with setting the chin up bar so high, is that sometimes as one gets older it becomes difficult to pull one’s self up to that height again.