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Live Reviews

Pat Metheny Unity Band: Denver, CO, September 7, 2012

By Published: September 28, 2012
Many people thought it would be a one-off experiment—interesting, but with no real long-term or practical uses. Wrong. For the Unity Band performance, he had a stripped-down version of the Orchestrion that included the bottle choir—basically a hillbilly pipe organ. Numerous bottles were arranged according to their size and air was automatically blown across the top to create tones: different size bottles, different tones. He also brought along some Orchestrion percussion—drums and cymbals—as well as orchestra bells, for additional melodic purposes.

"Signals (Orchestrion Sketch}" started with Metheny rubbing a cloth up and down the strings of his guitar. It looked like he was cleaning the guitar, but as he stepped on a few foot pedals, the soft scratching began repeating to set up a rhythm. He then started playing some riffs on his guitar that he also looped, and brought in the Orchestrion, layering the same thing with its various instruments. The rest of the band remained onstage, eventually joining in and creating an enormous sound. The Orchestrion had lights for each mallet that struck a bell, drum or cymbal, or when air blew across the mouth of a particular bottle. This helped in keeping track of what was going on, but it also created a flashing visual display that heightened the intensity of the multiple loops and the live band out front.

Metheny activated solenoids that operated each Orchestrion instrument with his guitar. An array of foot pedals gave him control over the different instruments and loops. During the Orchestrion tour, many reviewers likened Metheny to a mad scientist and, indeed, this segment of the show let him recreate that persona. Between his wild hair, the way he added layer after layer to the piece, and his operation of the various Orchestrion instruments, he looked like he was in a laboratory in a dark castle, adding and mixing mysterious ingredients to some sort of devilish brew.

After the gigantic sound of the whole band backed by the Orchestrion, Metheny switched to the other extreme and went around the band, playing a duet with each member. The piece with Potter was fast and intricate, sometimes in unison and sometimes diverging. For his duet with Williams, Metheny pulled out yet another 80/81 tune, Ornette Coleman's "Turnaround." As he did all night, Sanchez didn't merely provide a beat, but seemed to constantly solo, though not in a bombastic way; rather, he provided a steady undercurrent of polyrhythms.

After a couple more fairly conventional tunes with the full quartet, it was time for the encore. Up to that point, Metheny had visited many points of his past, including some of his unusual instruments and nods to past bands and collaborators, but a direct acknowledgement of the Pat Metheny Group was missing. The encore fixed that. The first song had the whole band, including the Orchestrion, playing "Are You Going With Me," an ultra-laidback tune first heard on Offramp. Next, Metheny grabbed an acoustic guitar and sat down for a wide-ranging medley that included a song from PMG's 1978 eponymous ECM debut; "Minuano (Six Eight)" and "Last Train Home," from Still Life (Talking) (Nonesuch, 1987), Secret Story's "Antonia" and "This is Not America," from The Falcon and the Snowman(EMI, 1984) soundtrack. Metheny then brought out the whole band for the final tune, a bossa nova number which represented yet another musical style.

Even without his most famous ensemble and longtime PMG collaborator, keyboardist Lyle Mays
Lyle Mays
Lyle Mays
b.1953
keyboard
, the Unity Band concert turned out to be review of the wide-ranging career from one of jazz's most creative—and restless—figures.


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