Pat Metheny and Larry Grenadier and a truckload of equipment are on a 26-city tour. They warmed up the other night with a first stop at The Seasons Performance Hall in Yakima, Washington. The tour will end in mid-October with a week at the Blue Note in New York City.
The equipment played a major role in Metheny’s and Grenadier’s two-concert evening at The Seasons, but their most satisfying moments came when they dialed down the amplification, ignored the panoply of digitally driven instruments occupying the back of the stage and achieved the intimacy that Metheny said was his goal for the music. His solo on the piece that began the second concert, “All the Things You Are,” ranks with the best playing I’ve ever heard from him. His final chorus of ascending chromatic figures was an expression of sheer joy.
The guitarist’s name and reputation were the draw that nearly filled the hall twice. It may be that Grenadier was unknown to most of the audience when they walked in. By the end of the evening, the energy, musicianship and power of his bass playing made it unlikely that they will forget him. Introducing Grenadier, Metheny said, “He’s the only one I’d do this kind of tour with.” Grenadier managed to retain the woody acoustic essence of his instrument despite excessive amplification in a hall with near-perfect natural sound properties. The melodic inventiveness of his solos often matched Metheny’s. His rhythmic drive supplied consistent excitement. The blues groove of “Soul Cowboy” led Metheny to exquisite subtlety in his single-note lines. The nuances continued in his quiet accompaniment of a Grenadier bass solo that moved some listeners to audible “Yeahs” and a few indiscreet whoops.
Exotica reigned in the first concert with Metheny’s unaccompanied performance of “The Sound of Water” on an elaborate custom instrument. George Van Eps used to call his guitar a lap piano. Metheny could fairly describe his 47-string guitar as a lap orchestra. Darned if he didn’t approximate the sound of water.
After speaking about his long love of music-making through electricity”My first instrument was a wall plug”Metheny announced that he and Grenadier would indulge in pure improvisation. They began as a duo but were soon joined by an illuminated device that flashed and sounded gongs in rhythm. Then with swift drama, the road crew lifted black covers off an astonishing array of equipmentan accordion, a marimba, a glockenspiel, sets of cymbals, a bass drum, a conga drum, a snare drum, ranks of jugs filled with varying levels of mineral water, and a few things it was impossible to see from the cheap seats. It was the orchestrion, or Metheny’s computerized variant of it, controlled through solenoids actuated by his guitar and several foot pedals.
Well, it didn’t work too well at the first concert. At the second, all of the synapses of the electronic brain were firing and we got a wild few minutes of rhythmic and visual display complete with echo, looping repetition, a percussion fiesta and accordion sounds that sometimes approximated trumpets. In one section, as Metheny wailed away, Grenadier used his bow to set a bass riff. It was fascinating and funny, a kind of musical vaudeville. When it ended, Metheny said, “That’s impossible to explain, so we’re just gonna keep playing.” And they did. In the course of the evening, they visited several of Metheny’s greatest hits, among them “James,” “Bright Size Life” and “Farmer’s Trust.”
What Metheny said would be the closing number turned out to be a highlight of both concerts. It was Dizzy Gillespie’s “Con Alma,” with no orchestrion supplements, fine solos from both musicians and a tag ending in which they anticipated one another beautifully. There was an anonymous-sounding Metheny solo encore, but it was the pure music of “James,” “Con Alma, “All the Things You Are,” “Autumn Leaves” and a few other pieces that lingered in the mind as the orchestrion entertainment extravaganza faded away.
In this video from the 2009 Umbria Jazz festival in Italy, Metheny and Grenadier play the kind of music they made in the quieter moments at The Seasons. If you don’t understand Italian, you may want to fast-forward to 1:15
If you’re interested in knowing more about the orchestrion, go here for Metheny’s explanation and demonstration.