27 January 2010

A Query

Yesterday Pat Metheny's latest album, Orchestrion, was released. I am a big fan of Metheny's straightahead work (I tend to ignore his Pat Metheny Group albums, just not my cup of tea), but I am a bit ambivalent as to whether I will be checking this one out. Since I am merely an amateur critic, I do not receive many promo CDs in the mail (especially from a major artist like Metheny). Hence, I pick and choose carefully which albums I review in this space. Having previewed some of the work on Orchestrion on the web (see below), I have a feeling that this album will quickly recede into the nether regions of my iTunes library, never to be heard from again.

The reason I have this suspicion is because Metheny is accompanied by robots, sort of. As he explains on his website, Metheny's backup band is "mechanically controlled in a variety of ways, using solenoids and pneumatics." I must admit that I am a little put off by the concept. It seems like in his effort to try something new, Metheny may have created an unholy amalgamation of machines and the proverbial one-man band. This strikes me as possibly antithetical to jazz and improvised music, in that the project removes much of the human interplay you would normally hear in a jazz ensemble.

Of course, I have not listened to the entire album, so I could very easily be wrong. But take a listen to a few of the YouTube samples below. Does Metheny succeed in mechanically replicating a full ensemble? Can these machines duplicate the rhythmic complexity of Metheny's music? Think of the stilted rhythms of a player piano - isn't there a reason we don't listen to them anymore? On a more philosophical note, do we want to live in a world where a human ensemble can be replaced by machines? Is this too modern for even the very modern Metheny? Should I quit my hand-wringing? I don't have all the answers, so I want to know what everyone else thinks. I look forward to hearing from you.

Upon listening to these two tracks this morning, I suspect that I would not be able to tell whether Metheny was playing all these instruments or if this is a Pat Metheny Group recording, so perhaps I should consider this a technological success. The jury is still out in my mind if it is an artistic success...

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