Since 2005's The Way Up, the final Pat Metheny Group album, the composer and guitarist has been roaming creatively. Recordings include two Metheny/Brad Mehldau collaborations: the hard-swinging Day Trip with bassist Christian McBride and drummer Antonio Sanchez, and the jazz/modern classical hybrid album Orchestrion, his one-man symphony invention and the first offering by the Unity Band -- with guitarist Sanchez, saxophonist Chris Potter, and bassist Ben Williams, and finally, 2013's great surprise: Tap: John Zorn's Book of Angels, Vol. 20. Despite the innovation, many PMG fans have nostalgically longed for the return of more accessible material. Kin (<-->), the Unity Band's sophomore outing, should please fans of all Metheny stripes. The band is now a quintet with multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi. He plays piano, strings, brass, winds, vibes, voice, and more. While the frontline remains the guitarist and Potter, the rhythm section of Williams and Sanchez is fluid in earthy and ethereal modes, seamlessly providing grooves and force, often simultaneously. Carmassi's contributions balance melody, form, texture, and interactive dynamics. Metheny's ability to convey an almost hummable sense of melodic euphoria was at the heart of the PMG's sound. It is ever present here, but his compositions make more room for spontaneous interplay, even in tunes that showcase the more complex elements of his writing. Opener "On Day One" offers a tough, polyrhythmic, rubato Latin groove, with a post-bop head with pulsing orchestrion in the middle that recalls Steve Reich. The title track contains a Spanish tinge as tenor saxophone, guitars, synths, cello, an upright bassline, and triple-timed drums spiral around and through one another. The soaring "Rise Up" has layers of guitars and skittering drums surrounding Potter's poignant soprano solo, before the intensity is scaled back to reveal the tune's tender heart. The ballad "Born" is a waltz rooted in the same gospel mood that Josh Haden's "Spiritual" was -- a tune Metheny and Charlie Haden recorded on Beyond the Missouri Sky). The languid, singing guitar blues and acoustic piano highlight the melodic sketch before Potter's physically restrained yet open solo makes it resonate emotionally. "Sign of the Season," with its samba rhythms and inventive engagement between Metheny and the saxophonist, becomes a suite-like exercise with spatial, dynamic, and rhythmic changes, and sweeping panoramas of brass, keyboards, percussion, and guitars. "We Go One" commences with an electro-style synth, then shifts itself into more earthly terrain, as tenor, piano, and guitars elegantly interact with the rhythm section's soulful shuffle right through the electronic pulse and squiggles. Kin (<-->) proves that the Unity Band is the next evolution of what Metheny -- and Lyle Mays -- began with PMG. Musically, this unit's musicality derives as much from feel and freedom as it does sophisticated form and function.
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AllMusic Review by Thom Jurek