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Pat Metheny Unity Group at the Paramount Theater, Denver, March 7, 2014

Geoff Anderson By

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Pat Metheny Unity Group
Paramount Theater
Denver, CO
March 7, 2014

The Group is back. Sort of. For virtually his entire career, Pat Metheny has bounced back and forth between the highly successful Pat Metheny Group and a wide array of projects under his own name. Ever since the Group's eponymous 1978 release, the personnel in the Pat Metheny Group constantly evolved. Besides Metheny, however, one player remained constant: keyboard player Lyle Mays; i.e.: no Mays, no PMG. The last Pat Metheny Group album was The Way Up (Nonesuch, 2005). Mays and Metheny haven't recorded together as part of the PMG since.

Now the Pat Metheny Unity Group has recorded a new album, Kin (<->) (Nonesuch, 2014) and the Group is currently on tour. Friday night, the Unity Group paid a visit to Denver's Paramount Theater for a two and a half hour show. As he has in the past, Metheny incorporated many instruments, contraptions, songs and techniques from throughout his career, which now spans a good 40 years.

The show started with Metheny on his custom built 42 string Pikasso guitar. The guitar has four sets of strings crisscrossing the body and two necks. Metheny used all 42 strings, often plucking several with his right hand while playing a bass line with his left hand on the longest neck. As if 42 strings just weren't enough, he tapped on the body (in one of the few places not crossed by strings) several times to add some percussion flourishes.

Next, Metheny brought the Unity Band to the stage: drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Ben Williams and reedman Chris Potter. The quartet played the first three tracks from their 2012 CD Pat Metheny Unity Band (Nonesuch, 2012); "Come and See," "Roof Dogs" and "New Year." Compared to the album versions of these songs and even their performance in Denver in 2012, both Metheny's and Potter's solos seemed more intense and urgent. They followed those songs up with "James" from the PMG album Offramp (ECM, 1981).

At that point, Metheny took to the microphone and explained the situation. He said that they were "kind of their own warm up act." He explained that this was the quartet that recorded the Unity Band album couple years ago and followed it up with a tour, including a stop in Denver in September 2012. They enjoyed it so much they thought they should do some more but, of course, Metheny, being the restless musical soul he is, thought they needed to change things up a little bit. He decided to expand the band and get back a little more toward the old PMG sound. He hired Italian musician Giulio Carmassi to expand the band to a quintet and Metheny wrote a collection of songs more in the PMG vein. The initial result was the Kin (<->) album followed by the current tour. Metheny then introduced Carmassi who settled in behind the grand piano. The unspoken implication was that with the addition of a pianist, the Unity Band became the Unity Group.

On the new album, Carmassi is credited with playing 13 different instruments (including whistling). Friday night, the piano was set up behind the drums without its own riser making Carmassi nearly invisible from seats on the floor of the theater. I had been looking forward to seeing how many different instruments he would play in concert, but it was extremely difficult to tell with his obscure positioning. Mostly, it seemed he played piano and occasionally added some wordless vocals.

The second part of the concert also saw the introduction of the orchestrion. The orchestrion is a musical contraption Metheny created a few years ago to allow him to be a one man band. Metheny described it as a collection of robotic instruments and he confessed that its creation and his use of it proved once and for all, "that I really am weird." Several years ago he toured with the orchestrion and no other musicians. He played the Paramount Theater on that tour and the full sized orchestrion filled the entire stage. One of the many great things about the orchestrion is that it is modular allowing Metheny to select bits and pieces to suit his needs for a particular tour. For instance, on the 2012 tour in support of the Unity Band album, he brought along only a few pieces of the orchestrion; parts of the bottle organ and some percussion. On the current tour, Metheny has included about a quarter to a third of the full sized orchestrion. Friday night's concert included a full size vibraphone with solenoid fired mallets on top, a set of bells, various drums, cymbals and percussive whatnot, an automated accordion and two large pieces of the bottle organ set high on the outer reaches of either side of the stage.

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