A master practitioner of jazz both gnarly and nice, Pat Metheny on this album (and the corresponding 80-date tour) goes solo. But he still plays with a band, thanks to modern technology exercising old concepts: the player piano and other mechanized instruments. Metheny's steam-punk-inspired Orchestrion allows him to play guitar while triggering an entire band's worth of instruments and to improvise at the same time.
Innovative? Absolutely. But does the music produced by this amalgam of player piano and one-man-band hold up? Mostly. However, the novelty only goes so far. Technically, Orchestrion is one of Metheny's most ambitious works—with no overdubs! This project's dynamics are best demonstrated on the dense and sprawling 16-minute title track, which might have benefited from a less-busy arrangement and the elimination of some annoying synthesizer squiggles.
Compositionally and performance-wise, it feels a little detached and clinical, although Metheny's guitar-playing is as agile and graceful as ever. The best of the five tunes is "Soul Search," a quiet contemplation warmed by dark-coffee guitar leads, on which Metheny resists the temptation to throw too many instruments into the soup.
Frankly, witnessing Orchestrion live sounds more interesting than listening to this recording; in person, you can see him using his amazing system of machines.