As the 1970s came to a close, guitarist Pat Metheny was riding high on a wave of well-received albums, from his self-named Group and Trio and as a contributor to works by vibraphonist Gary Burton, bassist Jaco Pastorius and others. In 1980, he went somewhere else entirely and recorded what has come to be regarded as a landmark album, 80/81 (ECM, 1980). Featuring Metheny, tenor saxophonists Dewey Redman and Michael Brecker, bassist Charlie Haden, and drummer Jack DeJohnette, this double-album of tracks, predominantly composed by the guitarist, signaled Metheny’s arrival at a whole new plane, capable of truly leading some of the best in the business, eliciting transcendent performances of captivating repertoire.
Metheny is now the elder statesmen, albeit one who continues to explore and innovate, ignoring labels like “jazz,” never mind the sub-genres and splinter groups, be they avant-garde, fusion, or any other. Pat Metheny has been there, done that, often first—and, more often, better.
A generation after 80/81, 32 years to be exact, Metheny finally revisits a tenor saxophone-driven group with Unity Band (Nonesuch, 2012). Benefiting from his ongoing willingness to showcase the best young players, Unity Band is anything but traditional. There are more than enough sonic twists and turns to satisfy longtime Metheny-watchers, but plenty of entry points for newcomers, too.