Pat Metheny, second from right, with Unity Band members Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez, and Ben Williams.
Pat Metheny Unity Group
Put to rest any notion that legendary jazz guitarist Pat Metheny is phoning it in at this stage of his career.
After 38 years as a bandleader, 20 Grammy Awards, and all sorts of mellow, intricate and smooth-style collaborations, it's hard to imagine what new heights Metheny can reach in the realm of his trademark, fluid modern jazz, other than to step outside his comfort zone, which he does on this album.
This disc and his work with the Unity Group in general (a group he first recorded with in 2012) are a powerful testament to his unending imagination and uncanny musical vision. Metheny can make even some of the most talented musicians sound better, as evidenced by his brilliant duets with jazz-classical pianist Brad Mehldau. But far more than just another lush collaboration, Kin is an album in which Metheny sounds especially fresh, inspired and upbeat as he's challenged by saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Antonio Sanchez, and bassist Ben Williams, who formed the Unity Group's core when it recorded with him two years ago. This latest incarnation also features the impressive talents and versatility of Giulio Carmani, who does some vocals and plays an amazing 11 instruments: French horn, cello, vibes, clarinet, flute, and alto sax among them. The result is a thinking man's modern jazz performance, with a lot of lively, long-form and multi-layered sounds.
Four tracks exceed 10 minutes and one goes in excess of 15 minutes — all defying conventional wisdom, but there's rarely a lull and the band makes good use of the audio elbow room. The disc is fun, adventurous, and chock full of gorgeous improvisation — loose, yet rich and introspective.
— TOM HENRY
VOICES IN A RENTED ROOM
New Bums (Drag City)
New Bums are two singer-guitarists: Ben Chasny of Six Organs of Admittance and Donovan Quinn of the Skygreen Leopards, both of whom understand a continuum between rough dissonance and pastoral, fingerpicked, clear-minded mellowness. They know a lot, and each is used to making music that sounds like private recordings from the early 1970s unearthed from a dead man’s storage unit. But as a pair there is something very now about them, and that is a kind of perverse, end-of-the-road floppiness. They want to show you how tired they are.
You might need provisions and a mind-body regimen to endure “Voices in a Rented Room,” their first collaborative album — caffeine at the very least, fresh fruit, exercise, math problems. Their aesthetic, their whole deal, is textured and untidy: That’s what comes naturally to them. But the record keeps feeling as if it might fall apart from lack of scaffolding.
Sometimes these are acoustic folk songs, no more, no less. “Pigeon Town,” with harmonica at the end, could be blurry acoustic Springsteen, and “Burned” coheres around a good old drone in D. Here and there you get more: a spare drum beat, an amplifier rumble, a burst of electric guitar. (Chasny can be a thrilling guitarist, at times; his sliding, smoky electric-guitar solo, in a T. rex-like song with an unprintable title — the tautest four minutes on the album, even as the tempo slackens and warps — isn’t his best, but it still feels like rain during a drought.) They both put tender wheeze and murmur in their voices but sing in unison or octaves as a default mode, which grows dull almost instantly. The acoustic guitars have been recorded closely and well, but Chasny’s single-note soloing, up on the neck, wilts from lack of forethought: You want to run a red pencil through half of it.
Worst of all, they rustle together a good song concept only to waste it. “Your Girlfriend Might Be a Cop”: The eye falls on that title and doesn’t want to leave. The lyrics make it halfway there. (“She looks at me like a thief/ Like she knows all my crimes and can bust me any time.”) But the song needs more form than the five minutes it seems to have taken to make it. No, four.
— BEN RATLIFF,
New York Times
NO WAY THERE FROM HERE
(Thrift Shop Recordings)
“They’re just working out who they are,” Laura Cantrell sings in explaining the title of her new album’s first song, “All the Girls Are Complicated.” When it comes to her music, at least, this alt-country veteran already has her own fully formed vision.
On “No Way There From Here,” the Nashville-born, New York-based singer-songwriter uses country as a base for a beguiling sound that also draws on folk and pop. It’s a good match for the grace and nuance of lyrics that never serve up trite emotion (the girls really are complicated).
Cantrell delivers the songs in a clear alto that gets right to their heart, whether it’s the yearning of “Driving Down Your Street” or the melancholy of the title track. And for all the gentle, beguiling nature of that voice, the brisk “Beg or Borrow Days” also reveals a steely resolve.