Pat Metheny was born in Kansas City on August 12, 1954 into a musical family. Starting on trumpet at the age of eight, Metheny switched to guitar at age twelve. By the age of fifteen, he was working regularly with the best jazz musicians in Kansas City, receiving valuable on-the-bandstand experience at an unusually young age. Metheny first burst onto the international jazz scene in 1974. Over the course of his three-year stint with vibraphone great Gary Burton, the young Missouri native already displayed his soon-to-become trademarked playing style, which blended the loose and flexible articulation customarily reserved for horn players with an advanced rhythmic and harmonic sensibility - a way of playing and improvising that was modern in conception but grounded deeply in the jazz tradition of melody, swing, and the blues. With the release of his first album, Bright Size Life (1975), he reinvented the traditional “jazz guitar” sound for a new generation of players. Throughout his career, Pat Metheny has continued to re-define the genre by utilizing new technology and constantly working to evolve the improvisational and sonic potential of his instrument.
Metheny’s versatility is almost nearly without peer on any instrument. Over the years, he has performed with artists as diverse as Steve Reich to Ornette Coleman to Herbie Hancock to Jim Hall to Milton Nascimento to David Bowie. He has been part of a writing team with keyboardist Lyle Mays for more than twenty years - an association that has been compared to the Lennon/McCartney and Ellington/Strayhorn partnerships by critics and listeners alike. Metheny’s body of work includes compositions for solo guitar, small ensembles, electric and acoustic instruments, large orchestras, and ballet pieces, with settings ranging from modern jazz to rock to classical.
As well as being an accomplished musician, Metheny has also participated in the academic arena as a music educator. At 18, he was the youngest teacher ever at the University of Miami. At 19, he became the youngest teacher ever at the Berklee College of Music, where he also received an honorary doctorate more than twenty years later (1996). He has also taught music workshops all over the world, from the Dutch Royal Conservatory to the Thelonius Monk Institute of Jazz to clinics in Asia and South America. He has also been a true musical pioneer in the realm of electronic music, and was one of the very first jazz musicians to treat the synthesizer as a serious musical instrument. Years before the invention of MIDI technology, Metheny was using the Synclavier as a composing tool. He has been instrumental in the development of several new kinds of guitars such as the soprano acoustic guitar, the 42-string Pikasso guitar, Ibanez’s PM-100 jazz guitar, and a variety of other custom instruments.
It is one thing to attain popularity as a musician, but it is another to receive the kind of acclaim Metheny has garnered from critics and peers. Over the years, Metheny has won countless polls as “Best Jazz Guitarist” and awards, including three gold records for (Still Life) Talking, Letter from Home, and Secret Story. He has also won 18 Grammy Awards spread out over a variety of different categories including Best Rock Instrumental, Best Contemporary Jazz Recording, Best Jazz Instrumental Solo, Best Instrumental Composition. The Pat Metheny Group won an unprecedented seven consecutive Grammys for seven consecutive albums. Metheny has spent most of his life on tour, averaging between 120-240 shows a year since 1974. At the time of this writing, he continues to be one of the brightest stars of the jazz community, dedicating time to both his own projects and those of emerging artists and established veterans alike, helping them to reach their audience as well as realizing their own artistic visions.
Grammy Award-winning composer-guitarist Pat Metheny s Orchestrion may turn out to be his most talked-about, argued-over undertaking. It’s already his most adventurous. With Orchestrion, Metheny redefines the concept of the solo album. He is indeed the only live musician on this recording, but it s the opposite of, say, his 2003 One Quiet Night, in which Metheny hunkered down in his home studio to explore all the musical possibilities of one new guitar. Here he works with an extraordinary set-up of acoustic instruments, assembled for him by a visionary team of inventors. What they have created in collaboration with Metheny is a veritable made-to-order solenoid orchestra that includes, among other things, bass, pianos, percussion, marimbas, guitar-bots, and a mellifluous cabinet of carefully tuned bottles. Using one-of-a-kind software programs and solenoid switches, Metheny controls each instrument via his guitar and an array of pedals.
Orchestrion was influenced by the primitive but evocative player-piano technology of yesteryear that has fascinated Metheny since he was a child. The player piano inspired inventors of that age to create the orchestrion, a large mechanical multi-instrument device that imitated the sound of an orchestra. Metheny brings this concept into the 21st century, composing and playing five ambitious pieces with his tailor-made, sophisticated, musically dynamic ensemble. Orchestrionics is what Metheny calls this new method of performing. The resulting album, recorded in midtown Manhattan’s MSR studio after months of experimentation at home, is a marvel of the digital era, yet the record sounds beautifully, stirringly, human. In other words – it’s timeless.
To witness Metheny improvising on guitar while surrounded by these instruments, digitally triggered to play the scores that Metheny has painstakingly written for each of them, is indeed a wonder. Eager fans have already made sell-outs of the first dates of Metheny’s Orchestrion tour. But hearing is truly believing, since there is not a single note on Orchestrion that sounds mechanical. Some tracks, like “Expansion”, have a thrillingly improvisational feel to them.
Metheny has gone into uncharted territory: every day in the studio with these instruments was a revelation as he began to comprehend what they were capable of musically and, more importantly, what he himself could achieve in their presence. They were not a substitute for the interaction of other players and this does not signal a shift from Metheny’s other collaborative ventures. In fact, Metheny most recently proved his love for ensemble playing with his 2008 tour-de-force trio release, Day Trip.
Orchestrion is all about innovation. As Metheny puts it, “This experience so far has provided me with a self-imposed challenge that has proven to be enormously difficult and time-consuming, but the early results have been absolutely exhilarating. I am excited to share this project. . . . I am hopeful and confident that if nothing else, this will be something truly unique. It feels like progress to me and has gotten some notes out of me that I didn’t know were there. That is always a good thing.”
For the first time since his 1980 release 80/81, guitarist Pat Metheny has recorded with a band that features tenor saxophone. Unity Band (2012) introduces a new Metheny ensemble with Chris Potter on sax and bass clarinet, longtime collaborator Antonio Sanchez on drums, and Ben Williams on bass. The album features nine Metheny compositions, new for 2012.
Metheny says of the three-decade gap since his last project to feature saxophonists (the late great Dewey Redman and Michael Brecker): “In many ways my bands were envisioned as an alternative to the more conventional kinds that I had come up playing in. The fact that it has taken another 30 years to get to it again is kind of a testament to how busy those alternative’ ways of thinking have kept me.”
“We all always talked about revisiting that band at some point, but with both Mike and Dewey gone now, that will never happen,” he continues. “But then Chris Potter came along. As a fan, I have watched as he has become one of the greatest musicians of our time, and when we were both invited to play on Antonio Sanchez’s debut record, I immediately saw that we had a natural way of playing and phrasing that suggested something more. I started thinking right then of somehow building a project around that.”
For the rhythm section, Metheny explains, “Antonio was kind of an obvious choice; he has been one of my closest associates over the past ten years and has also played a lot with Chris. He is such a special musician. There was a certain kind of power I knew that Chris and I would be getting to and I can’t think of anyone who could take us to that place better than Antonio.” He continues, “A few years ago, Christian McBride invited me to an event that he was leading with the jazz students at Juilliard. Ben Williams was featured on a few tunes and his playing spoke to me immediately. I used Ben a few times to sub for Christian with the trio and found him to be a great playing partner and a great person too. He and Antonio had an instantly effortless rapport.”
Once he had assembled this stellar band, Metheny wrote a considerable amount of new material for them. Through rehearsals, they winnowed the music down to the nine tunes on the Unity Band album. “It’s funny, I have heard so many guitar/tenor records that have been clearly influenced by that 80/81 sound, and yet I really wanted to try to take it to a different place this time, even though that record was certain to be a reference point along the way,” Metheny says. “One of Antonio’s specialties is this even eighth-note thing he does, and in a lot of ways that set a direction for the writing. But still, this is a group of musicians who can do just about anything.”