Concert review: Pat Metheny amazing with 'Orchestrion'
October 5, 2010 4:00 AM
John McConnico/Associated Press
Jazz great Pat Metheny
By Rick Nowlin Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
If you weren't actually watching, but later heard a live recording of Sunday's concert at Carnegie Library of Homestead, you might have thought you were listening to the Pat Metheny Group.
Close but no cigar, because the Kansas City-born guitarist was the only live musician on stage.
That doesn't mean, however, that he played solo or used a digitally recorded background. Far from it -- indeed, Mr. Metheny's accompaniment also was live and controlled by him thanks to three banks of pedals connecting to the rest of the "band."
Confused? We witnessed his "orchestrion," which used robot technology inspired by the concept of the player piano and developed by Squirrel Hill resident Eric Singer, who was in the audience, to allow instruments to play live, in real time, without an actual person playing them.
Among the battery of instruments: Two vibraphones, accordion, Disklavier keyboard, guitars, bass, numerous cymbals, drums and auxiliary percussion, glockenspiel, tuned bottles and probably some others I forgot.
The results were stunning. Yes, Mr. Metheny made his reputation as a world-class guitarist, with apologies to Smith Barney, the old-fashioned way -- he earned it. But the show, which lasted more than two hours, proved much more than your run-of-the-mill concert from a master fretboarder. It proved every bit a visual tour de force as a sonic one, with a light flashing whenever a particular instrument was being played and an animated light show that introduced even more drama to the performance.
He even said he hit a wrong pedal during one passage and screwed everything up. Could have fooled us.
About half of the material performed came from "The Orchestrion Suite," so it would have been new to a lot of folks. Some of the tunes came from his group album "Secret Story" and solo record "New Chautauqua." Not that it mattered what he played; Mr. Metheny gave two encores.
If there was a weakness, Mr. Metheny didn't explain very well how the technology worked, especially since much of the audience couldn't see the pedals. (Of course, maybe a graduate degree in computer engineering would have been required to do so properly.) Further, you still miss the interplay with other musicians even though the instruments themselves were live.
Mr. Metheny opened on acoustic with some variations on his tune "James," which sounded like a warm-up (and it turned out to be such) and moved into a medley of others, most notably "Phase Dance." He later switched to his pikasso guitar -- the one with 42 strings, many of which serve as drones designed to give a harp-like effect -- on "The Sound of Water."