The Unity Sessions strives to capture the connections, both musical and extramusical, shared by the members of guitarist Pat Metheny’s most recent working group, the Unity Band: saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams, drummer Antonio Sanchez and keyboardist/vocalist/multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi. Metheny wanted to document the musical and human rapport developing within the unit, but he wanted the viewer to experience that dynamic up close, rather than through the distant lens of a traditional concert film.
Shot at a New York City theater at the end of the group’s 2014 tour, The Unity Sessions presents the band performing a two-hour-plus set without an audience, on a dark stage illuminated by dramatic lighting. The cameras alternate between full-band angles and tighter shots that enable the viewer to gain an intimate perspective: focusing on Metheny’s hands, say, or offering close-ups of Sanchez as he listens and responds to the music around him.
Much of the material is drawn from the group’s two albums, 2012’s Grammy-winning Unity Band and 2014’s KIN (<->), and the melodically and rhythmically kaleidoscopic compositions offer each band member ample opportunities to shine. Potter in particular serves as primary counterpart to Metheny, a role similar to the one keyboardist Lyle Mays played in the Pat Metheny Group. Metheny and Potter drive the escalating “Roofdogs,” strum guitars on “Rise Up” and wax lyrical on “This Belongs to You.”
The set also reaches back to earlier points in Metheny’s career. Potter puts his own stamp on “Police People,” from the Metheny/Ornette Coleman collaboration Song X; the band jams on the folk-jazzy “Two Folk Songs,” from 80/81; and Metheny and Sanchez turn “(Go) Get It,” from Trio 99->00, into a fiery rock-edged duet. Metheny closes the show quietly, with a medley of Metheny Group favorites performed solo on acoustic guitar. An interview with Metheny and company is offered as bonus content.