When guitarist Pat Metheny released Orchestrion (Nonesuch) in 2010, it almost immediately became one of his most controversial recordings since Zero Tolerance for Silence (Warner Bros., 1992). Why, in a jazz world, where interaction with other musicians is so fundamental to its spirit, to its raison d'être, would one of the most important guitarists of his generation not only release an album that replaced live musicians with a complex, pneumatic and solenoid-driven beast of an instrument called an Orchestrion, but actually embark on a massive world tour to promote it?
The "Orchestrion" was a 19th century hybrid musical instrument that usually contained a wind orchestra, various percussion instruments, and sometimes a piano played by a pinned cylinder or a music roll. Pat Metheny designed and played his own version of one – thanks to a commissioned group of inventors, advanced solenoid switch technology, and pneumatics on the 2010 album Orchestrion. The guitarist's version combined organic instruments - various pianos, basses, rows of tuned bottles, bells, cymbals, and other percussion, with digital technology – guitarbots (including one modeled on Paolo Angeli's guitar), switches, and more. The Orchestrion Project was recorded following Metheny's world tour with the instrument, wherein he discovered more about the instrument and its capabilities for group interplay in a solo setting.
One of the most original guitarists from the '80s onward (he is instantly recognizable), Pat Metheny is a chance-taking player who has gained great popularity but also taken some wild left turns. His records with the Pat Metheny Group are difficult to describe (folk-jazz? mood music?) but manage to be both accessible and original, stretching the boundaries of jazz and making Metheny famous enough that he could perform whatever type of music he wanted without losing his audience.
Once you’ve heard Pat Metheny you will always recognise him, no matter what company he’s in or what instrument he’s playing, be it a simple acoustic guitar or some unlikely invention of his own. Beneath it all there’s a frank, open-hearted tunefulness that keeps the music airborne. This double album, recorded at the end of a year-long tour by his Unity Band, is as polished and sophisticated as any, but moments such as the opening melody of This Belongs to You or the gradual unfolding of Born are just plain elegant. There’s a similar quality about saxophonist Chris Potter’s playing, and all four are so relaxed in each other’s company that everything flows beautifully.
'Pat Metheny - The Unity Sessions' finds the 20 time Grammy winning guitarist and the youngest member of the Downbeat Hall of Fame at the helm of one of his best bands ever as they wrap up a 150 date world tour with an intimate studio performance filmed in a small New York City theater. Featuring new performances of music from the Grammy winning 'Unity Band' record, the expansive 'Unity Group KIN' recording, and touchstones from the entirety of Metheny's illustrious career, these are essential performances that serve as a rare visual documentation of some of the best music of Metheny's ever expanding career.