Music lovers inside the historic State Theatre New Jersey auditorium in New Brunswick, NJ this Friday, November 12, 2021 are primed to experience an evening of innovative jazz presented by guitar phenom Pat Metheny and his trio, Side Eye.
Metheny, 67, a 20-time Grammy-winning guitar prodigy, is one of the most important jazz musicians of the past 40 years. Not only is he a virtuoso on the traditional jazz guitar, but he has been influential in the development of several new kinds of instruments including the 42-string Pikasso guitar and the “Orchestrion,” a room-filled collection of musical instruments designed to play based on computerized instructions.
Metheny’s musical output incorporates a unique blend of unusual time signatures, sophisticated harmonies, and novel instrumental amalgamations. As such, he’s used a variety of musical ensembles to create a vast array of experimental soundscapes. The music produced by Pat Metheny Group, The Pat Metheny Trio, and the Unity Group — in addition to his collaborations with other musicians — serves as a testament to his sonic creativity. These days, Metheny finds himself touring with a new “playing environment,” Side Eye, which features keyboardist James Francies and percussionist Joe Dyson.
Inside the STNJ auditorium, an announcement is made, “Please give a warm welcome to Pat Metheny!” and the crowd leaps to its feet to give Metheny a standing ovation. Metheny smiles, bows, and states, “Thank you for coming out! We’re gonna get back in the groove,” as he introduces drummer Joe Dyson from New Orleans.
Metheny and Dyson open tonight’s concert with a performance of Ornette Coleman’s blues piece, “Turnaround,” which features Metheny on hollow body jazz guitar and Dyson on drums. Metheny soulfully scampers up, down, and around the fretboard as Dyson swings on drums.
Metheny nods his head in approval as Dyson plays a tasty solo. The audience cheers, Dyson leaves the stage, and Metheny welcomes keyboardist James Francies, from Houston, to the stage.
Music lovers in the crowd applaud when they recognize the next tune, “Have You Heard.” With fingers flying, Metheny plays the bouncy melody in a lower register before performing it again in a higher octave. Francies’ keyboard part surrounds Metheny’s dazzling guitar work with swirling chords and melodies.
Francies performs a rapid-fire piano solo as Metheny expertly accompanies him simultaneously playing bass and chords on his guitar to avid audience cheers.
Dyson joins Metheny and Francies on stage for “So May It Secretly Begin,” a tune with an Afro-Cuban feel. Metheny shakes his head slowly as he plays an introspective solo on this intriguing uptempo number where Dyson supports him on drums and Francies straddles two keyboards, improvising on the piano while simultaneously creating a funky and intricate synthesized bass line.
The crowd applauds when they recognize the intro to “Bright Size Life.” Metheny’s complex rhythms and chords fill the auditorium as fog rises under blue and purple lights creating a cloud of color above the musicians. The arrangement builds in intensity as Dyson plays syncopated accents on the cymbals and Francies solos on multiple keyboards.
Metheny and Co. change the mood with a slowed-down and soulful version of Metheny’s “Better Days Ahead.” Metheny plays a high and sweet guitar solo before Francies uses his voice and a microphone to shape the sound of his electronic keyboard solo to enthusiastic whistles and applause.
Metheny’s guitar work is percussive, fast, and bluesy on an arrangement of Michael Brecker’s jazzy minor blues, “Timeline.”
Francies plays Hammond organ on this number which swings along as the three Side Eye musicians play side by side, the music building and crescendoing to an impressive conclusion.
On “Always and Forever,” Metheny caresses his guitar as he fingerpicks slowly and melodically while temporarily holding his guitar pick between his teeth. Dyson softly and rhythmically taps on his cymbals to accompany the exquisite melodic strains emanating from Metheny’s guitar on this breathtaking ballad where Pat stands and plays centerstage under beams of light.
Music lovers in the audience listen with rapt attention, drawn into the beauty of this elegant performance before erupting into avid cheers and applause.
Following “When We Were Free,” an upbeat and rocking tune that sets heads bopping and toes tapping, Metheny switches over to acoustic guitar and sits solo center stage on “Message to a Friend.” Finger-picking slowly and softly, Metheny makes his guitar sing with emotion on this ballad with a yearning melody.
Before the trio launches into its next number, a stagehand removes a cloth covering a large stack of equipment behind the performers to reveal a mini version of Metheny’s invention — the Orchestrion. This smaller version of the original room-filling Orchestrion contains actual instruments like drums, tambourine, claves, cabasa, and more, which are all computer-driven.
On the space-age-sounding jazz fusion piece, “It Starts When We Disappear,” the Orchestrion Jr. gets the audience locked in to the song’s irresistible rhythm. Metheny slays on guitar before he, Francies, and Dyson jam along to the Orchestrion Jr.’s glockenspiel and marimba which light up as they rock along with the trio.
Dyson introduces “Trigonometry” with a fast and furious drum roll. Metheny scratches the strings of his guitar with his pick as Francies plays bass on the Hammond organ. On this dissonant high-energy bebop piece, Metheny thrashes his guitar as lights flash orange and red, the performance concluding with an abrupt ending and a cheering crowd.
Metheny takes a seat center stage with his 42-string Pikasso guitar. With its two necks and harp-like string area, he solos in the spotlight. Metheny’s left hand fingers the fingerboard on the guitar’s bottom neck while his right hand simultaneously picks on the open-tuned strings of the top neck — all while judiciously strumming the open strings of the harp-like portion of the instrument — prompting a burst of applause from the amazed crowd.
For the evening’s final number, Metheny and Co. present another jazz fusion piece, “Zenith Blue.” Metheny triumphs playing the guitar synth on this rhythmic arrangement which is accompanied by various Orchestrion Jr. percussion instruments ornamenting Joe Dyson’s crisp, clean, and percussive drumming.
Francies shines on a cascading piano solo while lights dance over the audience. The arrangement picks up in intensity and energy which brings audience members to their feet. Metheny takes a bow and the musicians leave the stage, but audience members remain on their feet demanding an encore.
Metheny returns alone to play a solo acoustic guitar medley which features tunes such as “Phase Dance,” “September Fifteenth,” “This is Not America,” and “Last Train Home.” Simultaneously playing bass, chords, and melody with great attention to dynamics and articulation, Metheny demonstrates why he is one of the finest guitarists of his generation as he elicits yet another audience standing ovation.
The band returns and the crowd roars for a final encore number where Dyson and the Orchestrion Jr. work together to tap out a rhythm on this upbeat tune. Lights sweep the stage and dance out over the audience as they sync to the floating sounds waving and bouncing about. Metheny’s solo is complex and compelling, all the while looking effortless. Ending with a wail and a flourish, the crowd gives Metheny one last standing ovation as he, Francies, and Dyson take a bow, wave, and exit.
As audience members make their way out of the STNJ auditorium, we chat with several music lovers who share their opinions of this evening’s performance. Declares Chris from Garwood, “This was a fun show with talented young musicians put on by the greatest guitar player of all time!” Chris from Edison, agrees, exclaiming, “He’s a living legend!”
Helena from Hillsboro asserts, “Pat Metheny was extraordinarily amazing tonight. I not only enjoyed listening to him and his band play, but it was especially great to be able to get out and see a live concert again.” Her husband, Tim, reveals, “I’ve been coming to Pat Metheny concerts since I first saw him at Live Aid in 1985.” Explaining, “Every show is unique and enjoyable,” Tim further notes, “and in this new band, his drummer, Joe Dyson, is great, and James Francies on keyboard is fantastic,” before adding, “and I also loved all the stage effects with the lighting.”
Next, we chat with a group of music students from Rutgers University. Remarks Hannah, an oboe player from New Brunswick, “It was an awesome show — I’m a jazz fan, and it was just great!” Whereas Kieran from Bridgewater calls Metheny’s performance tonight, “Phenomenal,” Brandon, a saxophonist from Newark reveals, “Jazz is my thing, but I usually don’t listen to this type of jazz — it was different,” adding, “It was really great exposure for me to hear something so new and different like this.”
Saxophonist and oboist Ariana from Livingston comments, “I really liked the drummer, Joe Dyson. His playing had a nice flow to it, and I especially liked how he used dynamics.” Pianist Jacob from Cherry Hill remarks, “James Francies’ piano playing was wild!” before Kyle, a trombone player from East Brunswick, says, “I really liked how avant-garde the show was, especially at the end.”
Lastly, we chat with Lavina and Edward, a couple from Bellmeade. Explains Lavina, “This was my first Pat Metheny concert. Edward had never taken me before — he’s always said a Pat Metheny concert was a ‘guy thing,’ but it’s not — it’s a ‘people thing,’ and it was fantastic!” Edward recalls, “I’ve been a fan for about 30 years, and I’ve seen Pat Metheny at least 15 times, and I have to say that this was his most emotionally-charged show yet — I was about to cry at one point,” before concluding, “but Pat Metheny is always fantastic — he’s just insanely good!”
To learn more about Pat Metheny, please go to www.patmetheny.com. For details on upcoming performances at STNJ — including Anastasia from Dec. 3–5, The American Repertory Ballet’s The Nutcracker on Dec. 17–19, and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Jan. 30, 2022 — please click on stnj.org.
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