After a period of careful listening and 'absorption' that sometimes is necessary with an album of this depth, Speaking Of Now presented itself as a new plateau in PMG history. While it is true that there are PMG albums that have struck listeners like lightning right on first listen, Speaking Of Now's formula made it more difficult to assess on a first run. The double-edged sword of a group like PMG is that it has developed its own idioms, it's own style, and with that comes the potential of re-circulation and overuse. This leads listeners to potentially ignore the subleties and deeper levels of understanding that can set a record far apart from the rest.
Speaking Of Now presents these signature sounds but with the addition of new directions, some that are beautifully subtle (perhaps too subtle for a select group of listeners who may be expecting more dramatic turns from record to record). Most importantly, what you hear here is a brand new energy, not just from the new staff but from the core members; Lyle plays beautifully here, and touches on textures that I've heard on his solo material and prayed would be introduced here; Pat is in top form, focusing on a wonderful vocal quality in his lines that weave beautifully within the context of each song. The trio recordings may have spoiled some folks who want Pat in the front lines at all times, but the beauty of PMG has always been how a virtuoso of Pat's level can shine without overshadowing and overstepping the importance of the group factor. Steve Rodby is the glue that seals the backbone here, and particularly in this setting with the talents of new drummer Antonio Sanchez, the two have increased the presence of the rhythm section as I've never heard it before.
One of the most distinctly noticeable additions is that of Richard Bona; a swiss army knife among the modern jazz community, Bona's vocals have seemingly transformed recordings by established artists in the past couple of years (Mike Stern's Voices is a good example of this). Richard's vocal contributions on tracks such as "You" and "Another Life" bring you to another place, and dramatically enhance the world-vibe overtones that have been a staple of the PMG sound for many years.
I have to say personally that while I've marveled at the horn sounds that Pat has employed via synth guitar throughout past recordings, the addition of Cuong Vu's trumpet brings a wonderful organic quality that may have been lost from time to time in the past. There is a vocal quality with a real trumpet that is unmatched by any other instrument, and this just further reinforces the way that this record sings. Layered against some dramatic PMG sound scapes, it's like being lost in a dream. Speaking of 'organic' qualities, Antonio Sanchez is another key point to be mentioned in discussing this CD. While there is no discounting the past contributions of Paul Wertico and Dan Gottlieb, Sanchez adds levels of spontaneity and push that are needed in the environment of the carefully arranged and produced material that PMG is known for.
The bottom line, Speaking Of Now is the next level for the PMG, and while you may hear a lot of things that are standard PMG fare (tracks like "As It Is" have some very familiar themes), I encourage you to listen more carefully. There is unquestionably a new energy and interplay here that powers the players, and a distinct vocal quality graces all of the new compositions here. Those looking for Pat's searing lines and amazing solo sections will not be disappointed, but make no mistake: this is a Group record, and you are sure to find something that makes this record for you from more than one aspect. That being said, this record, at Pat's own acclaim, is just a starting point for what is sure to be a new chapter for the group, while this CD stands solidly on its own, it is no doubt scratching the surface of what's to come.