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Pat Metheny: Orchestrion

Nenad Georgievski By

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In Pat Metheny's career, stylistic shifts and sudden breaks from the norm occur more often than not. Even though it is evident that he is rooted in jazz, his music encompasses so much more.

With the exception of few records, Metheny has been playing it pretty safe for some time now, sticking to his own personal vision of variations on the Americana/jazz theme. Pat Metheny Group's The Way Up (Nonesuch, 2005) and his jazz trio's Day Trip (Nonesuch, 2008) are both excellent records on their own terms but they represent the Metheny vibe that most people know, and have surely heard several times already. What is noticeable is that they are devoid of the sort of musical risk-taking that characterized earlier records like Bright Size Life (ECM, 1976), New Chautauqua (ECM, 1979), Song X (Nonesuch, 1985), Zero Tolerance for Silence (Geffen, 1992), Imaginary Day (Warner Bros., 1997) and One Quiet Night (Nonesuch, 2003). After so much of a similar thing, it is just great to hear him being pushed in a new direction.

Orchestrion is a bold step ahead into uncharted oceans, redefining the concept of a solo record. For this record he introduces the Orchestrion, machinery designed to automatically play music by means of revolving cylinders, and it sounds like an orchestra. Orchestrions were built at the turn of the 20th century, reaching their climax in the 1920s. Metheny was fascinated by these machines from an early age, and obviously it stayed with him. The machine used here was designed by Metheny and built by a group of inventors and it includes a myriad of instruments such as pianos, bells, basses, marimbas, percussion, cymbals, drums, loads of tuned bottles, synths and fabricated acoustic instruments.

Metheny has never shied away from technology as, in his own words, whatever helps him produce a sound is his instrument. The amazing thing here is the guitarist's interaction with the Orchestrion; everything heard is triggered by Metheny's guitar. The music sounds perfectly natural, as if it was played by humans.

The defining characteristic of any given musician is often his sound. Metheny has always possessed a broad range of tones that have made him instantly identifiable, but what has changed with this record is the frame. The context of Orchestrion gives it a different overall feeling and Metheny really rises to the occasion. His five compositions are beautiful and elegant, never losing the guitarist's typical, lush lyricism. There is a sense of wonder throughout, each composition possessing an adventurous spirit of true exploration.

This is thoughtful, free-thinking music, and among the most ambitious experiments Metheny has ever done. Orchestrion is a beautifully structured record with a fascinating instrumental blend.

Track Listing: Orchestrion; Entry Point; Expansion; Soul Search; Spirit of the Air.

Personnel: Pat Metheny: guitar and orchestrionics (pianos, marimba, vibraphone, orchestra bells, basses, guitarbots, percussion, cymbals and drums, blown bottles, and other custom-fabricated acoustic mechanical instruments, keyboard).

Title: Orchestrion | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: Nonesuch Records

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