An engaged Pat Metheny fan ever since I heard the opening riff of “Bright Size Life” leap from the speakers in 1976, I’ve always raised an eyebrow towards the guitarist’s work with his Group, the ensemble that took a big chunk of his time in the ‘80s and 90s. With the leader’s lines rounded out by gauzy keyboards, the music wore its heart on its sleeve, but was overly generous when it came to sharing its sentimentality. Because Metheny is a better guitarist than he is a composer, the Group’s book often seemed too saccharine by half. Yes, impressive interplay took place within the performances, but the defining tone was straight from Hallmark – the gooey parts swamping the gorgeous parts.
Though made with an entirely different lineup, Kin falls victim to a few of the same traps. There’s a fierceness that churns within the swirl of lines by saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Ben Williams, multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi and Metheny himself, but it’s blanketed by the grandeur that’s central to each song. Taken singularly, the anthemic sweep that gives most tracks their personality is enjoyable, if a bit obvious. But as the nine pieces unfold during the hour-plus program, the emotions repeat themselves and dilute the overall impact. The music – regardless of how fetching it may be moment to moment – turns mechanical and predictable. The majesty dissipates into pomp and the orchestrations wax grandiose. It’s telling that “Rise Up,” the album’s second track, has a “closing credits” finality to it. By its conclusion, it feels like the band has examined enough dynamic space to credibly call it a day.
Respites from these overblown intricacies are welcome, but even a relatively demure ballad like “Adagia” reveals its heavy heart, and when it trickles into “Sign of the Season,” the ostentatious cycle starts anew. The low register guitar lines on the reflective “Born” are appealing, as is Potter’s tenor, which makes hay with the track’s negative space and gets a few moments to put his eloquence up front. But mostly Kin extends the Group’s tradition of exacting elaboration and maudlin expression that harks back to the aptly named “The Epic” from 1979’s American Garage. Metheny calls the new album an IMAX version of the Unity Group’s previous disc, and he’s right – everything is a bit too florid. If you’re on the hunt for a music that’s equal parts stadium jazz and yacht rock, you’re in the right place.