The “orchestrion” is a Rube Goldberg-like contraption (named for 19th-century mechanical orchestras) that empowers Metheny in one-man-band format to trigger a variety of percussion and other instruments (including vibes, marimba, bass, bottles, and acoustic piano) as he plays guitar. This isn’t just guitar against static rhythm tracks.
The opening title piece layers one voice at a time until Metheny has filled every inch of his canvas with a dense crosshatch of rhythms and melodies in the manner of old-school minimalism like Steve Reich’s “Drumming.” “Orchestrion,” at 15:53, is the longest of the five pieces here, and it’s like the others in that its tempos, rhythms, tonality, and dynamics all shift and breathe. What’s more, it unfolds with the kind of continuous development, sans repeats, of the Pat Metheny Group’s 2005 masterwork, The Way Up.
So, no, this is not all just a lot of busy noodling. “Soul Search” really is a “searching” ballad melody that breaks into Wes Montgomery–like swing before returning to the theme — first on piano, then on guitar. “Expansion” truly does expand. And “Spirit of the Air,” using those Reichian procedures again, breaks for a ruminative guitar solo before returning to an uplifting reprise of the theme. As in most of Metheny’s work, what could be mistaken for glib virtuosity — or, in this case, gadgetry — reveals new depths at every turn.
PAT METHENY — THE ORCHESTRION TOUR | Orpheum Theatre, 1 Hamilton Place, Boston | May 20 @ 7:30 pm | $35-$59.50 | 800.745.3000 or ticketmaster.com