Friday, March 26, 2010

Pat Metheny's Orchestrion

I have greatly enjoyed Pat Metheny's work since I first heard him play (on As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, released in 1981). The Falcon and the Snowman (1985) is one of the great soundtracks ever, in my opinon. The Pat Metheny Group CDs that I have [Still Life (Talking) (1987); Letter From Home (1989); The Road To You (1993); We Live Here (1995); Quartet (1996); Imaginary Day (1997; this is a truly brilliant CD, and has one of the most intriguing covers I have ever seen--I wish I could decode it); Speaking Of Now (2002); and The Way Up (2005)] are filled with wonderful music; I play them often. His collaboration with Charlie Haden, Beyond the Missouri Sky (1996), is a stunningly beautiful set of music. Song X (1986), with Ornette Coleman (and DeNardo Coleman, Jack DeJohnette, and Charlie Haden) is a work of immense majesty. The work with Brad Meldau [Metheny/Meldau (2006) and Metheny Meldau Quartet (2007) is truly wonderful. I have not yet mentioned One Quiet Night, a solo album (2003), which is lyrical and entrancing. His collaboration with Gary Burton, Chick Corea, Roy Haynes andDave Holland, Like Minds (1998) swings. His works with John Scofield [I Can See Your House From Here (1993)] and with Jim Hall [Jim Hall & Pat Metheny (1996)] help define what you can do with guitars. I could go on, but I think this makes my point. Pat Metheny's music has pleased me and challenged me and stimulated me immensely over the years.

So my expectations for Orchestrion (2010) were extremely high. Metheny plays all the instruments on this CD (described as guitars and "pianos, marimba, vibraphone, orchestra bells, basses, guitarbots, percussion, cymbals and drums, blown bottles, and other custom-fabricated acoustic mechanical instruments, keyboard"), in what he describes as an attempt to " idea from the late 19th and early 20th centuries with the technologies of today to create a new, open-ended platform for musical composition, improvisation and performance."

My problem is that the music, while mildly interesting and definitely inoffensive, is also unobtrusive, and, frankly, forgettable. I have played the CD twice in the past two days, and nothing I have heard caused me to listen intently. Nothing created an emotional engagement. Nothing challenged me, beyond the intellectual challenge of trying to pick apart the sounds I heard into their constituent elements. Metheny's guitar playing remains fluid and melodic, but, in this case, it's a fluidity and virtuosity without much in the way of interesting musical ideas. It seems more that he has forced his playing into conformity with an idea for creating music, rather than having created music which led to a way of playing.

This is a set of music that is easily listened to, but all too easily forgotten. And that's too bad.

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