Released earlier this week Unity Band, the first stirrings of Pat Metheny’s new acoustic quartet, a band of the great Missourian’s that features the presence of saxophone for the first time in many years, is the sort of album that does not come along every day. 

Metheny, while dazzling of late with his Orchestrion album and the charming if a little low-key What’s It All About (the spooky orchestrion makes a brief cameo on Unity Band), his output on the last two albums could be seen as part of a holding pattern to partly prove a point firstly technologically and secondly in terms of interpreting pop tunes. Unity Band is a more organic concept, and introduces two big talents: one fully formed and majestic in Chris Potter; the other, in Ben Williams, a player still on his way, but with sky high prospects and already displaying significant character on the double bass. Metheny has already started touring the band in Europe but here in the UK we’ll have to wait until 8 July to hear the Unity Band in the flesh, and what a prospect that is.Unity band cover

One thing that has struck me in following Metheny in recent years is: whatever happened to Lyle Mays? With the Pat Metheny Group parked in the (presumably American) garage, his writing talents with Metheny should not be underestimated, and his keyboards always added a unique flavour to PMG shows even if his solo albums invariably disappointed.

The Unity Band of course is completed by Metheny’s long time trio drummer Antonio Sánchez who we’ve never quite heard enough of in the UK as the trio with Pat, Antonio and Christian McBride never toured here. Now’s the time for him to shine as well.

Stephen Graham

I still can’t quite believe that Lonnie Liston Smith is to play London once again in a high profile jazz club setting after a considerable gap. He’s coming in to Hideaway in Streatham on 13 July, and in some style.

The laidback jazz, funk and soul keyboardist used to come to the UK fairly regularly, often at the Jazz Cafe in Camden where I saw him in the 1990s, and he certainly made a strong impression on me at the time. Liston Smith, who is 71, has a very laidback, spaced out won’t-be-hurried style, very African at times, and in keeping with the moods of Bobby Hutcherson’s San Francisco period say or even Steve Reid’s crossover explorations. Associated with Pharoah Sanders (the wondrous Karma) and Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and a sideman briefly with Miles Davis appearing with Miles in On The Corner and Big Fun, Smith, who was born in Richmond, Virginia in 1940, led his own band Cosmic Echoes memorably in the 1970s making a string of albums including Expansions.

He’s been quiet of late, but still a name to conjure with among the cognoscenti, leaving the acid jazzers in the UK in the 1990s and since to keep Liston Smith’s music on everyone’s radar. The smoochy ‘Quiet Storm’ late night sound did not prevail as much as the Hammond organ approach acid jazz also got behind but Smith never conformed to a rigid genre, which is part of his great appeal and explains his distinctiveness.

His appearance in Streatham is all the more remarkable given that it’s on the same bill as Brian (Winter in America) Jackson, the keyboardist/singer who with Gil Scot-Heron made one of the key black consciousness albums of the 1970s, a classic whose influence is still relevant today.

Heavily sampled by the likes of Kanye West and Common, Jackson is still woefully undersung by the broader UK music community.

Family Stand’s Sandra St Victor and Mark Adams are also on the Hideaway bill with Liston Smith and Jackson.

Stephen Graham

Lonnie Liston Smith (pictured, above)