Pat Metheny: Orchestrion Tour, Binghamton University October 19, 2010
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Anderson Center for the Performing Arts, Osterhout Theater, Binghamton University
Binghamton, New York
October 19, 2010
Guitarist Pat Metheny's mastery of the intricacies of his Orchestrion was on dazzling display Tuesday evening, October 19, 2010, at the Anderson Center for the Performing Arts, Osterhout Theater, on the campus of Binghamton University in Binghamton, New York. The concert was a homecoming of sorts, as the guitarist returned to the upstate New York town after a decade long break of playing Binghamton gigs twice a year with his Pat Metheny Group.
Ceaseless creativity and the desire to test new technology to its limit in the service of the music, has always been one of the mottos of Pat Metheny. The release of Offramp (ECM, 1982) introduced the guitar synthesizer and Synclavier into the music, broadening its colors significantly. The launch of the solo Orchestrion (Nonesuch, 2010) in the winter of this year has been the fulfillment of a dream for the guitarist, who, at the age of nine, was endlessly fascinated by a player piano in his grandfather's basement. The album redefines what a solo guitarist is, and raises the bar for everyone.
Concert attendees unfamiliar with the Orchestrion had no idea what to expect when Metheny appeared on stage with his Manzer 6 nylon-string guitar and began with a lush, harmonically rich, improvisation into pianist Brad Mehldau's "Unrequited," from Metheny Mehldau (Nonesuch), his 2006 collaboration with the pianist. He continued with the beautiful "Make Peace" on baritone guitar, "The Sound of Water" on the 42-string behemoth Pikasso, and a reprise of "Unity Village," from Bright Size Life (ECM, 1976), featuring real-time looping and a pair of finger cymbals which the guitarist hilariously scolded as one became loose from the stand when he finished.
Those unfamiliar with Metheny's work, who seemed underwhelmed and lukewarm with the opening, rapidly became exhilarated as the red curtain rose to whoops and cheers revealing the full rig, marimbas to stage right, vibes to the left, both courtesy of Gary Burton. Prominently displayed were the bottle "pipe organ," two Yamaha Disclavier pianos (one hidden), and a myriad of drums and cymbals, belonging to Jack DeJohnette.
The hour-long set, in reverse order from the album, proved rewarding, as Metheny wove fresh improvisations, and some new colors, thanks to the programmability of the Ableton Live interface used to drive the instruments. The tunes on the album only hinted of what the Orchestrion was capable, as Metheny explained to the audience the hows and whys of the genesis of the project throughout the evening. He remarked in his usual jovial manner, and with child like enthusiasm, that people in his immediate family thought he had "lost his mind" when he embarked on the Orchestrion project.
A series of improvised solos with the Orchestrion really demonstrated its true power. An Ornette Coleman influenced piece, replete with "Broadway Blues" and references to tunes from Song X (Nonesuch, 1985), stunned, when Metheny triggered drums, bass, piano, and mallet instruments all at one time. Diehard Metheny fans are familiar with triggering multiple sonic environments using the guitar driven Synclavier, as he queued instrument samples and sound effects from the guitar. Onstage, translating the synthetic idea and creating it with real live instruments was truly remarkable. A guitar that has yet to be featured on record, using a foot pedal to control solenoids for additional bass lines and harmony, was also showcased in a rather abstract texture filled improvisation that was also amazing in its ingenuity. A wonderful rearrangement of "Antonia," from Secret Story (Nonesuch, 1992) followed, the Orchestrion-controlled accordion on top of a speaker stack used to great and subtle effect. The rhythmic feel was a contrast to Paul Wertico's cymbals on the original.
The high point of the entire evening was an improvisation built in layers, as Metheny laid guitar, bass, drum and mallet instrument parts down in real time, with the blown-bottle pipe organ used to synth pad-like effect. The rhythmic concoction brewed in density over several minutes with some of the looped guitar parts at times recalling the "Fast" movement of "Electric Counterpoin,t" which composer Steve Reich originally wrote for Metheny. While the rhythms were building, Metheny slung his Ibanez across his back, much like a samurai carrying a sword in a sheath. He switched to the familiar Roland GR300 guitar synth controller perched on a stand for a melting solo, while he manipulated key changes in real time. It was easily one of the most memorable parts of the concert.
The evening concluded with his classic "Stranger in Town" as an encore, from Pat Metheny Group's We Live Here (Nonesuch, 1995). When questioned on the harmonic and rhythmic challenges of rearranging older pieces during a meet-and-greet after the show, Metheny said, "It's fun, I would love to rearrange older pieces for the Orchestrion for a future project." Although he does not intend to stop playing with real musicians, the Orchestrion provides an interesting experience, as it did that night in Binghamton. Future projects using it are likely. Here's hoping Metheny returns to the area again before too long; the city has a small, but very loyal following.