Speaking of Now (Warner Bros.)

Pat Metheny Group 

Speaking of Now (Warner Bros.)

Things we know about the Pat Metheny Group: 1. PMG, as fans call the jazz ensemble, has released eleven albums in 24 years, toured around the world and won eight Grammys. 2. Metheny is from Lee's Summit, and his brass-man brother, Mike, also edits Jam, the Kansas City Jazz Ambassadors' mag. 3. Metheny knows how to surround himself with very talented people.

On Speaking of Now, PMG's new release, Metheny adds three new musicians to the band's lineup, which includes longtime collaborators Lyle Mays (piano and keyboards) and Steve Rodby (bass). Drummer Antonio Sanchez becomes the glistening river-rock bed that anchors Metheny and Mays' streaming compositions. Richard Bona, a bassist from Cameroon, contributes vocals and percussion. But it is Cuong Vu, an avant-jazz trumpet player popular in New York's downtown clubs, who elevates this recording above the ordinary.

In a band committed to accessibility, if uncompromisingly so, finding moments of unqualified musical transcendence can be difficult. Often too trite for edgy elitists, sometimes too irrelevant for standard-lovers, Speaking of Now swims some interesting waters but too often treads water. The deep-diving moments do come -- through Vu, who can change the direction of a song with one note. Spurred on by Mays' impressive keyboard work, Vu's clear-toned and confidently phrased solos on "As It Is" and "A Place in the World" give Speaking Of Now depth. In Vu, Metheny has found a voice that transcends his own group's pleasant contemporary-jazz groove.

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