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

Geoff Anderson By

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Another great thing about the orchestrion is that it allows Metheny to have an expanded sound without expanding the musicians' payroll. Some of those savings may be offset by the obvious expense required to assemble and disassemble the machine for each show. Still, the prospect of the orchestrion being involved in a union organizing effort seems slim.

Once Carmassi joined the band (or group) onstage and Metheny fired up the orchestrion, the program turned to material from the new album starting with the title track. The group played several other tunes from the new album including the epic "On Day One" which is the lead track on the new disc. The piece consumed over 15 minutes and included many elements familiar to PMG fans, including an introductory hand-clapping segment reminiscent of "First Circle," a PMG track from 30 years ago, soaring melodies, climaxes and multiple segments giving the piece the sound of a mini-symphony. Many of the other new songs in this part of the concert incorporated several of these elements as well.

Next, Metheny played a duet with each of his other band mates (except the orchestrion). Perhaps the most compelling was his duet with Williams on bass. The two have been playing together for a couple years now and during that time they have obviously become closely synchronized with what the other is doing or will do in the next moment. Their duet was breath-taking both for the virtuosity of the two players and for the sympathetic interplay between the two. Williams' playing all night long was a delight. He was able to maintain a transparent tone even while executing intricate passages. Even though an electric bass sat on stage by his side, he stayed with the acoustic bass throughout the evening. He even rosined up his bow a few times for another variation on his great sound.

Potter probably makes the biggest difference in the sound of the Unity Group as compared to the PMG. The Pat Metheny Group never had a full time saxophonist. Trumpeter Cuong Vu was in the PMG for a short time and occasionally one of the PMG's multi-instrumentalists picked up a trumpet or flugelhorn or sax but that was typically for some additional texture or coloring, not a focal point of the sound. Last night Potter was front and center for much of the concert. He often doubled the intricate melodies with Metheny and he had many solo slots. He bounced back and forth between bass clarinet, tenor sax, soprano sax and, occasionally, flute. His solos ranged from melodic and thoughtful to intense frenzys, sometimes sounding like Kenny Garrett's escapades on the alto sax.

Sanchez is the only hold-over from the PMG, being its last drummer. He was a study in smoldering intensity. During his ensemble playing, he used a light touch, but nevertheless seemed to be all over his elaborate drum kit (which included at least 10 cymbals) all at once. Metheny gave him several solos where he not only ratcheted up the intensity level, but continued his creative all-over-the-kit playing.

Carmassi spent most of his time in the background, literally and sonically. His duet with Metheny was a highlight. He played piano during that segment and sang the soaring melody from a tune from the PMG back catalog.

Once the duets were complete, the group turned to vintage PMG material including "Have You Heard" from Letter From Home (Geffen, 1989) to close the main set. The group returned for an encore with the ultra-laid-back "Are You Going With Me" from Offramp. Then, as he did for his 2012 concert, Metheny returned to the stage by himself for a second encore. He sat down with an acoustic guitar and reprised some 20th Century favorites in an extended medley including "Phase Dance," "Minuando (Six Eight)" and "Antonia."

Metheny, as usual, played one intricate, creative solo after another. He is one of the rare musicians for whom endless ideas pour forth with boundless creativity. Between his playing, compositional skills, band leadership and all around creative efforts, it's easy to see why he has won so many awards (20 Grammys) and why he was recently voted into the DownBeat Hall of Fame as its youngest member ever and only fourth guitarist along with Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery.

In addition to including a pianist and the sound of the music itself, perhaps the single most important signal that the Group is back was Metheny's choice of wardrobe. As he did throughout the many decades of the PMG, Friday night, he wore a striped shirt.


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