Partway through his return to the Lobero Theatre on Thursday night, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny called the venue "a special place for me," even alluding to a stop there as becoming, for him, the "definitive gig of the tour."
Metheny's enthusiasm for the Lobero was matched by the audience's enthusiasm for his 2½-hour dazzling and diverse display of guitar virtuosity, a tour de force of brilliant technique, versatility and overall musicality.
The concert began with a mesmerizing solo piece by Metheny on his 42-string Pikasso guitar, which is almost a cross between a guitar and a harp, showing us right away that it would be a special evening.
Then the rest of the Unity Band lineup came out, namely the incredible Chris Potter on saxophone and other woodwinds, Ben Williams on stand-up bass and Antonio Sanchez on drums. They played several pieces from their Grammy Award-winning Unity Band album, with Metheny switching between some fine guitars including his guitar synth. This set ended with "Police People" from Metheny's acclaimed album Song X, featuring a wonderful drum solo by Sanchez.
After this smokin' opening set, Metheny joked that "we've kind of been our own opening band tonight," then keyboard player Giuliana Carmassi joined in to fill out the Unity Group. This band started out with the piece "Kin (←→)", the title track to their great new album which sports a fuller, more composed sound.
Actually, here and for most of the rest of the evening the Unity Group was augmented by a collection of Metheny's Orchestrion instruments, which are custom-built machines in the spirit of a player piano that mechanically play real instruments such as a marimba, drums, and (my favorite) blown bottles.
Watching the instruments seemingly play themselves brought to mind those stories about the Lobero Theatre being haunted, but I digress ...
The Unity Group program included my favorite piece off the new album, On Day One, a long, sophisticated composition that to my ears has a rather nice Steve Reich influence. Metheny also did a series of duets with each of the bandmembers, all unique and all impressive.
Overall, the concert was a fitting reflection of Metheny's diverse career, with a stellar band that matched his amazing musicianship. Hopefully his next musical adventures will also find their way to the Lobero.
— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.