Pat Metheny Unity Band review – edgy jazz and much-loved 80s hits

Hammersmith Apollo, London
From warm ballads to film-score broodings, the Pat Metheny Unity Band's fluent and diverse set was flawless

In its dizzying pan across one of contemporary music's most prolific, idiomatic and lengthy careers, this gig by guitarist Pat Metheny's Unity Band wasn't so different from the band's 2012 London concert – until it became apparent that their fluency with materials, from free jazz to Metheny's signature soft fusion, had shifted up a gear. For two-and-a-half hours straight, the band joined edgy jazz, warm ballads, film-score broodings and much-loved 1980s Metheny hits, while the almost 60-year-old leader's virtuosity, work ethic and devotion to jazz as entertainment never faltered for a moment.

An unaccompanied Metheny began with rustling breezes on the multi-stringed Pikasso guitar, which then built up to a chiming, fast-strummed roar. Reeds player Chris Potter added quiet bass-clarinet figures, before Ben Williams's double-bass hook and Antonio Sanchez's scalding percussion ignited the high-energy Roofdogs from this year's Kin. But Kin's roots in Metheny's classic Ornette Coleman-inspired 80/81 album played a big part in this show, evidenced by the guitarist's haunting exchange with Potter on The Bat (written for former Coleman sax partner Dewey Redman), and a skidding, bumping slalom through Police People (from the Metheny/Coleman classic Song X) previewed sharp contrasts to come. Metheny's quietly ecstatic James became a snappy dance, and 80/81's Folk Song was a solemnly graceful tenor sax feature, before the gig switched tack with more synth effects, and Giulio Carmassi's keyboard, flugelhorn and pealing vocals. Kin's hypnotically rhythmic title track, the jittery, Ornette-like Genealogy, and a series of scintillating jazz-standard duets between Metheny and his partners followed – but inevitably, those timeless 80s originals Have You Heard? and the hypnotic Are You Going With Me? brought the most rapturous audience gratitude on a memorable night.

Contributor

John Fordham

The GuardianTramp

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