Monthly Archives: October 2012

Pat Metheny at Denver’s Botanic Gardens

Pat Metheny Unity Band
Denver Botanic Gardens
September 7, 2012

By Geoff Anderson

Pat Metheny is restless. And we’re all the richer for it. Over a career that is now pushing 40 years, Metheny has been a constant innovator not only in the development of musical styles, but new sounds as well, going so far as to invent new musical instruments to help him push, and sometimes explode, sonic boundaries. Now on tour with his Unity Band, Metheny showcased many of his discoveries and inventions September 7th at Denver’s Botanic Gardens.

The Unity Band marks the first time Metheny has had a saxophone in his own band in over 30 years. The last time was when he recorded the album 80/81 with Mike Brecker and Dewey Redman on saxes (and Charlie Haden on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums). Since that time, he has consorted with sax players, but always as a sideman. A few of those appearances include Pursuance with Kenny Garrett, Wish with Dewey’s son Joshua and Tales from the Hudson with Mike Brecker. This time around, he has Chris Potter on saxes (tenor, soprano and bass clarinet). The band is rounded out by Antonio Sanchez on drums and Ben Williams on bass.

It’s now been seven years since the last Pat Metheny Group album (The Way Up). Metheny has always bounced back and forth between the Group and his solo projects of various sorts (like 80/81 for example). This seven year hiatus seems like one of the longest. PMG is by far the most popular Metheny format. Its soaring melodies and accessible rhythms are real crowd pleasers. But the music of PMG is also intricate and, even to hard-core music fans, interesting and often surprising. Metheny’s solo projects, on the other hand, can yield music that is much more challenging and esoteric. Again, the 80/81 project is an example with some serious hard bop and flirtations with the avant-garde. One of the more extreme examples is his Ornette Coleman collaboration, Song X. He has also recorded a number of true solo albums such as New Chautauqua and One Quiet Night. Other albums without the PMG come close to the Group’s sound, such as Secret Story. In other words, there’s no telling what Metheny will come up with next.

The Unity Band, both in concert and on its eponymous album, comes closer to a PMG sound than many Metheny solo projects. Much of the material emphasizes melody and creating an atmosphere more than drag strip speed and intensity. Friday night’s concert began with “Come and See” from the new album. That was a good example of the PMG-type sound, with a catchy, repetitive bass line setting a mood with a nice melody on top. However, the tune (and the concert) began with an introduction by Metheny playing his custom-made Pikasso Harp 42 string guitar. That’s right: 42 strings. He introduced this guitar around the time of the Group’s album Imaginary Voyage in 1997. The guitar has two necks and four sets of strings, some of which criss-cross the body. He played bass notes with the fingers of his left hand hitting the fret board of the longer neck. Because his left hand was occupied, he plucked the remaining strings with the fingers of his right hand and had to select the strings already tuned to the notes he wanted to play – just like a harp. Following the intro, he switched to his more common blonde Ibenez hollow-body guitar. He had at least two of these and they were his primary guitars throughout the evening.

The next tune, “Roofdogs,” was another selection from the new album, and at the same time featured another unique, or at least unusual, Metheny instrument, the synth guitar. This instrument goes back even further, to around the time of the Pat Metheny Group’s album Offramp in 1982. The new tunes continued after that with “New Year,” the lead-off track from the latest album. A couple more quartet pieces followed including one with a relaxed melody and another from the school of hard bop. Then, digging deep once again, Metheny pulled out “First Folk Song” from the 80/81 album. This version was much shorter than the one on the 32 year old album, but it nonetheless hit the highlights of the song. Next up was the orchestrion piece.

In 2010, Pat Metheny released an album called Orchestrion. Orchestrion is actually an elaborate, automated musical instrument Metheny conceived and had built. Metheny said he got his inspiration from ancient player pianos, but he took the concept light years beyond the days of piano scrolls and ragtime. For instance, the Orchestrion CD describes the “Orchestronics” as “pianos, marimba, vibraphone, orchestra bells, basses, guitarbots, percussion, cymbals and drums, blown bottles, and other custom fabricated acoustic mechanical instruments.” He took the entire contraption on the road and it filled whole stages reaching 15 to 20 feet above the floor. He set up loops with synthesizers and computers, hooked the mechanical instruments into his guitars and stood in the middle of the whole thing and created music not quite like anything heard before.

Many people thought it would be a one-off experiment, interesting, but with no real long-term or practical uses. Wrong. He had a stripped down version of the Orchestrion on stage Friday night. He included the bottle choir, basically a hillbilly pipe organ. Numerous bottles were arranged according to their size and air was automatically blown across the top to create a tone; different size bottles, different tones. He also brought along some percussion features of the Orchestrion for drums and cymbals as well as orchestra bells for additional melodic purposes.

The tune started with Metheny rubbing a cloth up and down the strings of his guitar. It looked like he was cleaning the guitar, but as he stepped on a few foot pedals, the soft scratching began repeating and set up a rhythm. He then started playing some riffs on his guitar which also began repeating. He layered on the loops and then brought in the Orchestrion and started doing the same thing with its various instruments. The rest of the band remained on stage and eventually joined in and created an enormous sound. The Orchestrion had lights for each mallet that struck a bell or a drum or a cymbal or when air blew across the mouth of a particular bottle. This helped in keeping track of what was going on, but it also created a flashing visual display that heightened the intensity of the multiple loops and the live band out front.

After the gigantic sound of the whole band backed by the robot band, Metheny switched to the other extreme and went around the band, playing a duet with each member. The piece with Potter was fast and intricate, sometimes in unison and sometimes diverging. For the duet with Williams, Metheny pulled out yet another 80/81 tune and played “Turnaround,” a song written by Ornette Coleman. Sanchez, as he did all night, didn’t merely provide a beat, but seemed to constantly solo, but not in a bombastic way; rather, he provided a steady undercurrent of polyrhythms.

After a couple more fairly conventional tunes with the full quartet, it was time for the encore. Up to that point, Metheny had visited many points of his past including some of his unusual instruments and nods to past bands and collaborators, but a direct acknowledgement of the Pat Metheny Group had been missing. The encore fixed that. The first song had the whole band, including the Orchestrion, playing “Are You Going With Me,” an ultra laid back tune first heard on Offramp. Next, Metheny grabbed an acoustic guitar and sat down for a wide ranging PMG medley that included “Phase Dancer” (or was it “San Lorenzo” (?) dang instrumentals(!)) from the first PMG album; “Minuano (Six Eight);” “Antonia;” “Last Train Home;” “This is Not America” and others. Metheny brought out the whole band for the final tune, a bossa nova number, which represented yet another musical style.

Even without his most famous ensemble, the Pat Metheny Group and his long-time collaborator in that unit, Lyle Mays, Friday night’s concert turned out to be review of the wide ranging career of one of jazz’s most creative, and restless, figures.


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Gov’t Mule in Denver September 12-13, 2012

Gov’t. Mule
Gothic Theater/Fillmore, Denver
September 12, 13, 2012
By Geoff Anderson

The Mule is back. After a dalliance of about a year and a half with the Warren Haynes Band, Warren Haynes is back with his old comrades, Gov’t. Mule. (Can you have a dalliance with yourself?) Haynes formed Gov’t. Mule in the mid ‘90s to create the kind of heavy rock that he thought was lacking from the music scene at that time. His obvious role models were bands like Led Zeppelin, the Stones, and the Who. The Warren Haynes Band, on the other hand, has a more soulful sound, the pinnacle being the entire set of James Brown on Halloween, 2011 at the Ogden Theater. See a review of that show here:

As they did in February 2010, the Mule played two shows in Denver last month, the first at the relatively intimate Gothic Theater and the second at the much larger Fillmore. As usual, the band played two 2 ½ plus hour sets without repeating any songs. As usual, they mixed their originals with classic rock covers. As usual, it was great stuff.

The Mule doesn’t limit itself to simply banging out loud heavy metal. Certainly, the blues forms the basis for most of their material, but they dabble in jazz and even country, exemplified by the extended quote of Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues” in the second night’s second set. That set, in particular, roamed around several musical blocks. The band’s original “Effigy” formed the launching pad for an excursion that included not only the Johnny Cash tune, but also Hendrix’s bluesy “Hey Joe.” A jam on a Grateful Dead staple “The Other One” shortly followed and that one included snippets of the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” and “My Favorite Things” from The Sound of Music, but turned into a jazz standard by, among others, John Coltrane. And speaking of Coltrane, another tune associated with him, “Afro Blue” showed up moments later. Right around the same time we heard a quote from “The Ballad of Chet Kincaid,” a tune written by Quincy Jones and Bill Cosby, which Cosby used as a theme song for one of his TV shows. Also in the jazz vein was “Kind of Bird,” a song Haynes co-wrote with Dickie Betts when they were both in the Allman Brothers Band in the early 90s. The song has a serious Allman Brothers vibe, but the walking bass line puts one foot squarely in jazz-land.

Of course, a Mule show rolls out plenty of heaviness. The beginning of the second night dropped one piece of heavy metal from the sky after another. “Bad Little Doggie,” “Lola Leave Your Light On,” “Lay Your Burden Down,” and “Brand New Angel” were a statement that the Mule rocks, and don’t forget it. But even within the rock idiom the Mule offers considerably more than a single speed (or emotion). Broken hearted love songs are a specialty. No, not just broken hearted, more like smashed, stomped and shredded heart love songs. We’re not talking about a lost love, too bad, so sad, boo-hoo. No, these are tragically failed romances; the kind that leave you twisting in agony on the floor, nearly turning inside out, incapacitated for months, years. A couple good examples of those are “Slackjaw Jezebel” and “Steppin’ Lightly.” (“Never saw the warning signs/ Only a fool could be so blind/ Who knew she could be so cold/ Cut me deep into my soul/ I’m hanging on by a thread/ How could I be so mislead?/ Woman drive me outta my head.”)

Identifying the cover tunes, especially when the band only plays an instrumental quote, is always good fun. Unusual twists, like the song “About to Rage” being in 7/4 time, also keep things interesting. Although much of the band’s music is blues based, the Mule doesn’t often play straight up blues. However, the first night, Haynes strapped on a hollow body electric guitar and delivered an authentic blues tune in “I Need Your Love So Bad.”

Danny Louis continues to take a bigger role in the band. The Mule originally started as a power trio with Haynes on guitar and vocals, Matt Abts on drums and Allen Woody on bass. After the untimely and mysterious death of Woody in 2000, the band has gone through several bass players. For a few years after Woody’s death, the band recorded albums with many different bass players, eventually settling on Andy Hess. He left several years ago and the bass position is currently held down by Jorgen Carlsson. Over the years, the band dabbled with a keyboard player on occasional studio tracks, usually just to add some Hammond B-3 growls for an authentic classic rock sound. After numerous guest appearances, Louis eventually joined the band as a full time fourth member on keyboards. Still, he rarely soloed and generally just provided moods and textures in the background. Gradually, Haynes has been giving him more room to solo, not only on the B-3, but on piano and synthesizers too. Then, after 2009’s album, By a Thread, Louis started to come out from behind the keyboard cockpit and strap on a guitar to play some rhythm behind Haynes’ solos. This time around, Louis played more guitar and even a few sections that could be considered solos. Having had about a year and a half vacation, he’s apparently has some time to practice.

Although a little bit of the Mule leaked into the Warren Haynes Band with Mule songs like “Frozen Fear,” “Tear Me Down,” “I’ll Be the One” and “Soulshine,” there was neither sight nor sound of the Warren Haynes Band in the two Denver shows. The title of the only Warren Haynes Band studio album (so far) is Man in Motion which aptly describes the leader of both these bands. Haynes’ career seems to be a lot like a Mule concert: you can never really be sure exactly what you’re going to get, but you can expect another shot of a soul-fixing elixir.


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