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Pat Metheny Group: Speaking of Now

Pat Metheny

More than any of the diverse performing contexts guitarist Pat Metheny has found himself in over the years, from Michael Brecker to David Bowie, it’s impossible not to think of his playing as being defined by, and defining, the Pat Metheny Group. Certainly it was not until 1987, after dedicating himself to 10 years of 250 to 300 gigs a year, that Metheny began to be heard away from the group. Yet for Metheny, the PMG is more labor of love than meal ticket. Not since the death of Miles Davis in 1991 has a group exerted an appeal that extends beyond the normal jazz constituency and been able to fill auditoriums around the world. Of course, this does not sit well with Metheny’s harshest critics, who require their jazz heroes to endure a respectable degree of penury and steer clear of the trappings of electricity. Yet this is missing the point: The PMG is the only major electric-jazz group exploring extended ad hoc compositional forms, extending the boundaries of electronic sounds within the world of jazz and setting standards of individual and group virtuosity.

The virtuosity is more apparent than ever since his current group, built around the nucleus of Metheny, keyboard player Lyle Mays and bassist Steve Rodby, has upcoming trumpet talent and singer Cuong Vu, drum virtuoso Antonio Sanchez and, most unusually, bass whiz Richard Bona, who here eschews his Fender in favor of percussion and vocals. But even with this influx of new talent, from the opening track of Speaking of Now there is no mistaking the musical landscape. Metheny has often compared his Group to a big band, with its use of voices and thickly voiced guitar and keyboard colors, and the way his compositions unfold with steadily evolving logic-Metheny calls this “the trip factor”-makes Speaking of Now another intriguing musical journey that fits comfortably alongside First Circle or Still Life (Talking).

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