Sound — 10
Some may feel that the Grammy Awards have become an over glorified gala. That the Grammy Awards serve only mainstream artists like Beyonc and Jay-Z while giving lip service to the artists we adore. Yet, when one person has racked up twenty Grammy Awards, like Pat Metheny, we should take notice and applaud. Some may feel that new, digital technologies have corrupted the musical world and that the rawness of analog equipment is and will always remain supreme. Yet, when Pat Metheny uses digital technology to create a new instrument, named the Orchestrion, we should take notice and applaud.
In this last instance, I think we ought to give a standing ovation. Pat Metheny is an acclaimed, influential jazz guitarist who has been releasing albums since 1975, when he recorded "Bright Size Life" with Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses. Metheny would continue to record albums and tour, usually playing over 120 shows per year. Along the way, he received his twenty Grammy Awards and in the year 2010, he did something that I consider revolutionary in the use of his Orchestrion, a machine that allows Metheny to play multiple instruments at the same time.
The following is from Nonesuch.com:
"The Orchestrion itself is an assemblage of computer-operated acoustic instruments, all controlled by Metheny's guitar. The full instrumental array includes several pianos, drum kits, marimbas, 'guitar-bots', dozens of percussion instruments and even cabinets of carefully tuned bottles. Through Metheny's guitar, the instruments are struck, plucked, and otherwise played via the technology of solenoid switches and pneumatics. Metheny worked for months with a brilliant team of scientists and engineers to develop and assemble the Orchestrion."
So, with this instrument, Metheny recorded a studio album entitled "Orchestrion" in 2010. The true jewel, however, arose in 2013, after Metheny had come to master the Orchestrion. The album that is the topic of this review is entitled, "The Orchestrion Project". It is a live album, recorded in a church in Brooklyn, a spot large enough to house the Orchestrion. I also feel obliged to add that both of these albums are instrumental albums.
Now, I've never been one for jazz, and Pat Metheny is relatively new to me, but I can still declare that this album is a masterpiece. Even though I have gotten past my awe of the Orchestrion, I can still easily say that this album puts to shame most of the artists that are abundant on this site. Don't take that as an insult to your favorite artist, but as a compliment to Metheny.
While listening to this album, I found that it was best to close my eyes. When I did, the music was expressive enough that it caused images to pop into my head, changing at every interval. The image that reappeared the most, however, was one of an acrobat, the type that swings in midair while others catch him. I could always feel him swinging and each change in the music felt like someone had caught him and then thrown him onto another landscape.
Though there are constant changes in the music that never seem to repeat, a few half-true constants can be discerned. Metheny's guitar tone never changes and the overall sound of the album is maintained throughout, since the dynamics of many of the instruments cannot be changed. There is no guitar distortion present at any time. Any feelings that arise from the music are due to the changes in key and the passages that are played, rather than changes in dynamics or effects. If one were to take a brief listen of the album, one would find it happy, as most of the instruments that are a part of the Orchestrion are happy instruments. To find the sadness, unpleasant chords can be heard that are much too complicated for my feebly educated mind (music theory education). As a whole, the album mostly retains a happy feel.
While the feel of each section is usually happy, they are each different and the sections of each song are so intricate that I think it is an inconceivable feat to try to describe every song. But suffice it to say that your head will be filled with images, even if you try to avoid them. During, the first listen, I was filled with awe as my head spun around, trying to attribute meaning to each phrase played. On subsequent listens, I realized that the meaning attributed to each phrase will differ drastically between one person and another and that the album had a large gold mine of scholarly material worthy of studying. Dont worry though, this journey of an album is absolutely meant to be listened to instead of studied.
This may be implied, but, the production quality of the album is fantastic. Since this is kind of a live album, I would expect shoddy production quality, but the production on this album matches, if not exceeds the studio version. All of the instruments seem layered well and the guitar only cuts through the mix when it is necessary, though this is due more to the complexity of the music than the dynamics of the guitar. The production feats are even more spectacular considering that each instrument was simultaneously played by Pat Metheny during the recording sessions. While some may think that the computers would cause this spectacular sound, I think that it can be attributed to the skill of Metheny. I mean, I have seen people's jaws drop at the amount and quality of sound Rush is able to produce live with three people, but this is recording was done with one person, putting it in a league of its own. It is also worth noting that Metheny played, composed, arranged, and produced this album himself.
If there is one negative to this album, it comes from the unlikeliest of places. In my mind, Metheny's guitar solos can get weak at certain points. To be specific, the solos start to sound the same even though the backing music is drastically different. This rarely happens, but it is present and makes the album slightly less fun to listen to.
Lyrics — 8
This album is an instrumental album, so there are no vocals to speak of. Nevertheless, the music speaks for itself, and boy does it sing.
Overall Impression — 9
In total, "The Orchestrion Project" is a complete, masterful album that makes me realize how petty artists like Slash and Metallica really are. Again, these are great bands, but this album by Pat Metheny makes them look petty. This album that clocks in at over 1 hour and 50 minutes will not cause me to drop all of my other famous artists. In reality, this album is incredible and revolutionary, but certainly not the greatest thing ever made. In fact, Pat Metheny's true strength lies in constructing the songs and manipulating the Orchestrion and not in being a virtuosic guitarist. It is just scary what a jazz master can do to rock/metal guitarists.
I would not consider myself a new, total fanboy of Pat Metheny, it's just that his album is the most impressive that I have reviewed on UG and one of the most impressive that I have heard in quite a while.
At the time of publication, Pat Metheny has no reviews of any kind on Ultimate-Guitar.com. Therefore, I hope I can assume that many of the users here are not incredibly familiar with his music or his Orchestrion.
Here is a link for more information on the Orchestrion instrument.