It was starting to look like Pat Metheny was becoming a misanthrope. After all, it had been almost five years since the guitarist had played with anyone else on record, choosing to go solo with an acoustic guitar on 2011's What's It All About and, on the most extreme end, creating a virtual army of robo-musicians to do his bidding on 2010's Orchestrion. Thankfully Unity Band, as its title suggests, debunks this theory in a hurry. However, based on Unity Band's roster, it does suggest that Metheny is becoming more selective than ever in his choice of collaborators, featuring the kind of stacked lineup that accompanies only the most rarefied occasions: Chris Potter on tenor (the only other time Metheny featured sax was on 1980's 80/81, when he had Michael Brecker and Dewey Redman), Ben Williams on bass, and Antonio Sánchez behind the kit. More promisingly, Metheny's choice of sidemen reveals a real sense of daring. Neither Potter nor Williams had ever played with the guitarist, and all four individually possess vastly divergent styles — Metheny's smooth lyricism, Potter's forceful free-jazz leanings, Williams's hip-hop grounding, Sánchez's Afro-Cuban pedigree — that would seem to undermine the unity concept. Instead, the unique interplay results in Metheny's most inspired record in years. Even though the unfamiliar surroundings don't push Metheny's own playing into the uncharted territory he may have been seeking, they have clearly energized him. Let's hope he stays a people person.
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