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4.1 out of 5 stars
Orchestrion
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
If you were to close your eyes when unwrapping this CD and start playing it without looking at its cover (or being aware of the story behind it) you'd think it was "just" another Pat Metheny record: the characteristic creamy guitar tone, strong sense of melody, knotty changes and detailed textures created by the subtle overlaying of dozens of instruments are all present and correct. If you were then to pick up the cover, you'd see all those instruments spread out across a room, though you might miss the crouching figure of Metheny down in the corner. Reading the credits, you'd realize that he's the only musician on this record, making this the solo date to end them all.

Details about the technology that he's used to trigger the sounds the instruments create - starting with a note played on his guitar and ending with a tapped cymbal, or a strummed guitar, or a mallet hitting a marimba, or air being blown across a bottle half-filled with water - are available in the sleeve notes, or his website. In this age of overdubbing and the accurate computer synthesis of musical sounds, some of this information can appear irrelevant and, of course, in the end, you come back to the music, less concerned with how it's made than what it sounds like. And it sounds good: exciting, inventive, lyrical, detailed and pleasant. It's still early days listening to it, but already I'm fond of the intricate melody and stop-start changes of "Expansion", and the way in which "Spirit Of The Air" lays a catchy tune on top of an driving, insistent pulse - similar to "Cathedral In A Suitcase" from Secret Story.

But something in the back of your mind remembers that these sounds aren't being made by a machine, or a group of some of the expert musicians that Metheny's played with in the past, or even overdubs made by Metheny himself: instead, the sound feels organic, swinging and - paradoxically for something that's held together by MIDI, computers, robots, pnuematics and solenoids - *human*. Of course, to be able to see and hear these pieces being reproduced live, with just Metheny and all his instruments onstage, will be another story again. I can't wait.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 4 November 2010
Every once in a while Pat comes up with a record that confirms his status as a musical visionary. This, his latest record, serves as yet another example of his talent and foresight.

Just like a number of other customers I wasn't too hopeful about the overall concept - the conceit of an automated orchestra feels like a gimmick (or a comprehensive spending review, as one of my colleagues suggested) but is far from being the case. Even a casual listener will have his or her mind boggled by the detail of music present within this record. The very idea that it has been 'assembled' rather than performed (by live musicians) appears impossible. In that respect I totally agree with the recent BBC Music magazine review, which states that far from sounding mechanical, this is in reality one of the warmest and most human of Pat's recent recordings. For me the title track is Pat's finest (opening track) since 'A night away' (from Quartet). Highly recommended.

As a postscript; I foolishly turned down my wife's offer of seeing the pieces performed (at the Barbican) earlier this year. I'm going to regret that decision for some time to come.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
on 28 January 2010
I won't go into any detail about the actual orchestrion itself. Other reviewers have done that very well and there are many links on youtube and Mr Metheny's website which explain and show how it works. Make no mistake though the orchestrion is a major progressive development technologically over the older versions and the player piano.

The orchestrion sounds uncannily like a group of musicians (that is how convincing this new invention is) It does sound somewhat different to Pat's varying ensembles but there are complex interactions going on on the macro scale as well as the micro scale of the music.
In a sense this is a kind of follow up to the old album 'new Chautauqua' On that album pat tried to use the studio as an instrument with overdubbed guitars etc to build up the songs. On that album probably due to the technology available and restricted studio time he came away with a very listenable album whose sparseness was highly appealing. On Orchestrion he is afforded a broader, richer pallette to work from and 20 odd years more musical experience.

The Orchestrion is a machine which has been humanised (or gives the illusion of such) It is a very tight but flexible sounding 'ensemble'all under the control of Mr Metheny.

I felt a little underwhelmed on first listen but several plays later this album really begins to grow in the memory. There are a lot of very complex things going on in this music, structurally, rhythmically and melodically & Pat plays some wonderful melodic solos over all of this.

Pat has always done his own thing musically and often taken some wide detours on his musical journey (Song X, Zero tolerance for silence, the sign of 4 etc) Orchestrion unlike those albums follows more in the footesteps of the PMG albums/Secret Story and the way up. If the fans wish to follow that is up to them.

The songs on the album (all multi instrumental) have all the hall marks of a Metheny composition but the orchestrion allows him the personal freedom to change the songs often subtly and to do new things. There are new twists to a lot of the music here and like 'Secret Story' the spaces are often filled with great detail in the sound.

The first track is one of the many highlights on the album and is a little reminiscent of 'first circle' from the album of the same name. It builds to a wonderful climactic apotheosis. There are a lot of time changes in the songs which keeps the listener's attention also.

Some attention has been brought to the quality of the drumming/bass playing on this album, namely that it is not up to the standards of a Mcbride or a Sanchez. I think this is asking over and beyond the possibilities of Pat and the orchestrion. The bass and drumming segments are definitely functional within the compositional structure of the works here and while not sounding like a well honed bass/drummer do a very fine job. One has to remember the bass parts on albums like 'New Chautauqua' and 'As falls wichita...' which Pat played himself. Those were obviously not as good as a well crafted bass player but did the job within the context of the pieces. Overall critics have very positive things to say about this album. I'm sure if we get an 'Orchestrion 2' it will be even better than this one.

My only criticism of the album is that it feels too short (this is not the case though in reality it is around 54 mins) which indicates that the album is definitely engrossing.

Albums which are immediately likeable usually don't get played much ultimately (in my experience) This one though will certainly be played a lot. Sadly some fans seem to be somewhat resistant to this new device and change of Pat's, for those who decide to stay the course there are many rewards.

Highly recommended.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 10 May 2010
This is Pat Metheny's latest solo work and probably his most interesting since New Chautauqua but technology has advanced since that early album.
The album was apparently inspired from Metheny playing around with hig Grandads player piano when he was a child. The original orchestrations were mechanically played mini orchestras from the 1800's based around the piano Metheny has taken it a step further.
This huge machine dwarfs him on stage with all its custom made instuments which Metheny controls though his guitar via solenoids and a MIDI.
The 15 minute title track is pure upbeat Metheny with a slighty folky overtures but works very well as a piece and to listen to it you would not guess the majority of the instrumentation was a machine with Metheny playing over the top.
The more insular pieces Entry point and Soul search don't work as well,like a drum machine on a west coast Jazz album from the mid nineties the music misses that human touch.
If you were not aware of the creativity and ingenuity of this modern master you would ask why he bothered? His fans allow him his indulgence albums simply for those sublime moments that few modern Jazz masters have matched.
To be effective you need to see the piece performed live,when I saw him perform it recently in London the Orchestration machine broke down! As Metheny said at the time his worst nightmare. Myself and many others in the audience were secretly relieved as he then performed a lovely solo set of vintage material. Not a Metheny classic but real officianados of the man fans will not be disappointed.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on 28 January 2010
Let's be clear: I don't see any issue if mechanical or electrical devices are adopted for making music. For instance overdubbing, midi sequencing, sound processing are widely used; no need to complain or be opinionated as long as the result (the music) is satisfying. So my review is about how good the final result is to my hears, without thinking to who is actually playing.

Pat is in very good shape, compositions are classical PMG-style lyrical (and long) pieces. Percussive instruments (including piano and vibraphone) are well integrated even if always leaving the guitar the unquestionable leader of the music. The recorded sound is very good with pleasant stereophonic effects and sound depth. But... after hearing Pat playing recently with such great bass players (Christian McBride and Larry Grenadier) and drummers (Antonio Sanchez and Jeff Ballard) I feel that the "new bass player" and the "new drummer" are a league below. Similar consideration when I think to the musicians of the PMG.

A nice CD with lyrical compositions, interesting ideas and amazing technology. However, the final results is tame and cold at times and I feel that the music could have been better if "the musicians" in the recording studio playing along with Pat had given more of "their hearts" to the final result. I have all Pat albums and I can tell this is not his strongest release, neither his weakest work. A release worth exploring but for sure it won't shade or take the place of the PMG best works in your collection.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 21 May 2010
The reason I was attracted to this particular Pat Matheny CD was after having read an article about it's conception and eventually it's awesome live performance.
Those who are not familiar with his work might benefit from a journey through his back catalogue, admittedly some may
find it a little predictable after a few albums, but this is a well seasoned explorer of musical landscapes, packed with
excitement and rhythmic surprises.
'Orchestrion' is really a dream come true for Pat. Always fascinated by the steam driven orchestrions of his childhood, he decided to produce the modern day equivalent using cutting edge hi-speed computer activated robotics with advice and
construction by Eric Singer of LEMAR. Using real acoustic instruments adapted with strikers, strokers and so on, he manages to assemble a robotic orchestra.
Writing the music for this monster was to be quite a learning curve. Pat had to rethink his whole approach to writing the score, enabling the musical interaction of 'man and machine' to sound as natural as the technology would permit. The end result is just stunning!
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on 7 August 2014
The concept of the album is indeed impressive and gives a whole new meaning to what is considered as a Solo album. However, as the liner notes conclude, what really matters are the notes, the music itself. From this aspect, apart from a couple of exceptions (the last two tracks "Soul search" & "Spirit of the air"), the rest of the material does not sound that impressive at all.
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on 20 March 2010
Absolutely brilliant, another masterpiece from the maestro. I just cannot stop listening to this album and I have had it for two months now. I predict that Pat will yet again win a major award at Grammy 2011 - Best Jazz Album. Thanks yet again Pat
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on 26 February 2010
Pat will be touring...yet again, in the summer of 2010 with the rest of the PMG, of course after he has toured with this amazing band of electronic troubadours, the concept 'Orchestrion'. For me, the most amazing jazz composer of today has achieved a long held ambition(his words), to compose a piece for self-playing instruments. As a massive fan for many years, after the amazing 'The Way Up'(which didn't hit the spot for me initially, but quickly grew into an unrivalled compositional masterpiece)'Orchestrion', also didn't hit the spot straight off. However, after witnessing the UK leg of the tour at the Barbican, yet again the piece came to life, much more so than the album. So, I am not about to criticise my hero...there are few new albums out there to rival anything of this musical magnitude. Yes, it does lack ingredients that Pat can call upon , like the soaring vocals, replaced by muted lyrical half filled bottles that don't quite hit the spot...or Lyle's solos, Antonio's drumming etc etc
Track 2 is a Metheny classic, absolutely deep and beautiful and worth buying the album for alone. The rest, if you are a Pat fan will at the very least, keep you amused til' his next release sometime later this summer
This is an amazing album and well worth checking out...go on, catch out your friends and see if they can tell the difference between human jazz and electronic.
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on 28 May 2014
Made even better with vinyl. I was fortunate enough to see this show live, so I was really excited to find the vinyl version of the album. Great sound and detail in this version.
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