The Pat Metheny Unity Group, which played The Carolina Theatre on Saturday, Aug. 9th, includes (from left) Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez, Ben Williams, Giulio Carmassi, and Pat Metheny
Only a genius would have the guts to open a set with the 42-string Pikasso guitar. That genius is Pat Metheny. And he blew away everyone at The Carolina Theatre in Durham on Saturday night, August 9th. Most of the people in the audience had waited a long time for this concert; and judging by the long ovation at the end of the concert, they were far from disappointed.
In February, Metheny and his Unity Band were scheduled for an appearance; but this year’s horrendous winter weather insinuated its strength and for “one of only three times in my life of touring that gig was cancelled,” Metheny told the audience for this joint presentation by The Carolina Theatre and Duke Performances. Since that time, Metheny has been all over Europe and will continue touring until December. Not only that, Metheny’s Unity Band has been transformed into the Pat Metheny Unity Group.
Nothing stays static in Metheny’s world, but he doesn’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Metheny’s Unity Band started the evening; and after he introduced the group, it transformed into the Unity Group with the addition of a fifth member. But I digress.
Ironically, the evening started with a torrential downpour that lasted the whole weekend. If the weather had been snowy, Metheny’s group would have been cancelled — once again. Thankfully, they were not; and Metheny opened the evening on stage alone with his Pikasso guitar, playing a very soft and long solo that enticed and cajoled with ethereal sounds. It was clear from the very beginning that we were in the presence of a master musician, and that truth became more evident with each passing moment. When the opening song was over, the rest of the group arrived on stage; and the Unity Group began entertaining in a way very few groups can do.
Each of the musicians in the Unity Group is multitalented, and that is an understatement. Each of them played at least three instruments throughout the evening; and they probably could play many more. Though I don’t know Metheny personally, I imagine that he only invites the most talented musicians to work with him, and that his need for perfection is what has won his 20 Grammy Awards in 12 separate categories. There are few who can make that statement.
The first part of the evening included complicated music, such as the opening number, “Roof Dogs,” “80/81,” “Police People,” and “Folk Song #1.” The core group includes Chris Potter, who played at least half a dozen wind instruments through the evening, including a contrabass sax, one of the rarest of the various saxophones commonly played. During any one song, he played at least two woodwinds, often switching back and forth so quickly that if you looked away, you might miss his virtuosity.
The same is true for Ben Williams, an acoustic bass player who is as comfortable on the upright bass as he is on the electric bass guitar. His sense of timing, musicality, and style are like few others in the jazz world.
Then there is the fabulous drummer Antonio Sanchez. As with the other musicians in the Unity Band, Sanchez is multitalented. His solos are intricate and colorful, finely crafted and without par. His solos invited many in the audience to attempt to compete with their air drums, but no one could possibly keep up.
After Pat Metheny’s first set and his intros of the Unity Band, the tempo changed. Metheny announced that the next set would concentrate on the metamorphosis of the group into the Unity Group. Essentially, the band grew by the addition of one member, Giulio Carmassi, and many new instruments. The “veils” were lifted from what appeared to be huge speakers on the back of the stage, revealing a xylophone, vibraphone, two shelves of apothecary bottles, an accordion, and bouquets of shells. Those automated additional instruments lent the original group a few additional levels of color and texture that made the music even more interesting than it had already been — and that’s saying something. Carmassi is the orchestrator of those automated instruments
Metheny’s music ranges from the sensual and quiet to the upbeat and rousing. His originality electrifies the audience, building the music (and the listeners) to a crescendo that reveals his genius. But a genius can only be as creative as the people with whom he/she works. Metheny’s genius melds with those around him, bringing them to the height of their own talent. In the latter part of the evening, he proved that by doing duos with each member of the band.
Each duo builds on the previous, and by the time the group comes back together, the audience realizes that the event is almost over. After close to two hours with Metheny, his fans still want more; and he gives it to them in an encore that highlights both his past as well as ensuring them that his future will enlarge to make more space for the creativity to come.
Was it worth it to The Carolina Theatre audience to wait six months to see and hear the marvelous Metheny’s group? Hell, yes!
SECOND OPINION: Aug. 11th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Peter Ingram: http://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=6934.
PAT METHENY UNITY GROUP, with Chris Potter, Antonio Sanchez, Ben Williams, and Giulio Carmassi (The Carolina Theatre and Duke Performances, Aug. 9 at The Carolina Theatre in Durham).
SHOW: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/events/pat-metheny, https://www.facebook.com/events/275179712663343/, and https://www.facebook.com/events/661822207233538/.
VIDEO PREVIEWS: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QBj-ziAyoUI and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cgUxjhBHN3g.
The Carolina Theatre: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaTheatreDurham, and https://twitter.com/CarolinaDurham. Carolina Theatre Blog: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/blog.
Duke Performances: http://dukeperformances.duke.edu/, https://www.facebook.com/dukeperformances, and https://twitter.com/DukePerformance.
VENUE: http://www.carolinatheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaTheatreDurham, and https://twitter.com/CarolinaDurham.
Pat Metheny (Lee’s Summit, MO-born jazz guitarist and composer) http://www.patmetheny.com/ (official website), https://www.facebook.com/PatMetheny (Facebook page), https://twitter.com/PatMetheny (Twitter page), http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pat_Metheny (Wikipedia), and https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCpGyfPjwhD2JnF1ev69RkVA (YouTube channel).
[RUN HAS CONCLUDED.]
Dawn Reno Langley is a Durham, NC-based author who writes novels, poetry, children’s books, and nonfiction books on many subjects, as well as theater reviews. She is also Dean of General Education and Developmental Studies at Piedmont Community College in Roxboro, where she oversees the theater program at the Kirby Cultural Arts Complex, and a member of the Person County Arts Council. To read all of Dawn Langley’s Triangle Review reviews online at Triangle Arts and Entertainment, click http://triangleartsandentertainment.org/author/dawn-reno-langle/. To read more of her writings, click http://dawnrenolangley.com/.