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Reviewers: Tony Augarde [Editor], Steve Arloff, Nick Barnard, Pierre Giroux, Don Mather, Glyn Pursglove, George Stacy, Sam Webster, Jonathan Woolf



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PAT METHENY

Orchestrion

Nonesuch 7559-79847-3

 

 

1. Orchestrion
2. Entry Point
3. Expansion
4. Soul Search
5. Spirit of the Air

Pat Metheny - Guitar, piano, marimba, vibraphone, orchestra bells, basses, guitarbots, percussion, cymbals, drums, blown bottles and other custom-fabricated acoustic mechanical instruments, keyboard

 

The popular image of a one-man band is someone with a bass drum strapped to their back, perhaps a pair of cymbals between their knees and a harmonica fitted near their mouth. However, on this new album, guitarist Pat Metheny acts as a one-man band by hooking himself up to a variety of instruments by the wonders of technology. He calls the result an orchestrion, which in earlier days meant a machine which made music that sounded like a whole band.

As a child, Metheny was fascinated by his grandparents' player-piano, which played music using cardboard piano rolls. He was intrigued by the idea of producing an orchestral sound using mechanical means. He commissioned a number of inventors and technicians to produce a variety of devices to produce the different sounds of an orchestra, which he could play by remote control.

One gets the vision of Metheny behaving like a child in a toyshop, with so many playthings around him that he hardly knows which to choose. As a result, he creates a wash of sound with his guitar at the centre. The trouble is that there are so many interwoven sounds that there is no clear line for the listener to follow. Pat's guitar seems to be continually interrupted by other instruments clamouring for attention. The overall sound often resembles that produced by the Pat Metheny Group, but without the sharp focus that a band of musicians could provide. At times it seems like a mixture of the Javanese gamelan and Duke Ellington's Malletoba Spank (which clustered together an assortment of percussion instruments). The sound can be mesmerising but some of the tracks throw too many instruments into the mix to maintain one's interest without strong melodies to hold onto.

This is certainly true of the opening title-track, which starts promisingly with a soaring guitar theme which unfortunately becomes submerged amid a welter of conflicting sounds. This track lasts for more than 15 minutes and outstays its welcome by simply being too cluttered. Entry Point is more subdued but still can't quite fix on a melody to carry the listener along. Instead the music seems to move gradually upwards and then down again, before wandering around rather aimlessly.

Expansion starts with a typical Metheny melody which may make you feel more at home, with Pat displaying his guitar proficiency and some punchy percussion thrusting the music along. Soul Search is much gentler and has a wistful tune which is immediately appealing. The orchestral textures are warmer and richer, too, making this a very accessible track.

The final piece, Spirit of the Air, would be very pleasant except for the repetitive ostinato at its base which seems determined to drive a hole into your skull. Peace descends halfway through the track, which then becomes more acceptable, aided by some quicksilver guitar, although the riff returns to mar the ending.

So, all in all, this is a very patchy album which makes the concept of the orchestrion seem as much of a gimmick as a musical advance. In the sleeve-notes, Pat says, enthusing about the orchestrion: "If nothing else, this has turned out to be something unique". On the evidence of this CD, it seems an unduly complicated experiment hardly worth repeating.

Tony Augarde



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