SCHENECTADY — Instantly recognizable guitar sound? Check. Steam-punk instrument-bots? Check. Fresh songs? Check. Four ace collaborators? Double-check!
Pat Metheny packed the whole deal onto Proctors Mainstage Thursday.
Some 40 years ago, Metheny was jazz’s young fresh face. Now there’s gray in the big hair framing that mostly grimacing face, but Metheny seemed youthfully energetic and creatively restless, retracing the steps from hot new kid to still-hot, very experienced and authoritative eminence.
He’s said he formed the Unity Group he brought to Proctors on Thursday as “a platform for the first time that could cover the entire spectrum of things that I have done as a bandleader over the years under one roof.”
Two albums on — their 2012 self-named debut and last year’s “Kin” — the original lineup of saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Antonio Sanchez and bassist Ben Williams has been augmented with pianist/trumpeter Giulio Carmassi.
Metheny bookended his two-and-a-half hour ramble with impressive solos, launching fireworks from his 42-string harp-guitar and saying a sweet goodnight in an encore medley on acoustic.
He proclaimed midway that the show had two parts: They’d be their own opening act. In the first part, guitar, bass, drums and sax echoed the “Unity Band” album but ended with the familiar “James.” This four-song run had a smooth flow. Metheny soloed on either fat-body jazz box or guitar-synth in that trumpet-y sound he likes. Potter chased John Coltrane or Sonny Rollins while etching his own identity. Williams was steady and patient. And Sanchez shot sparks.
Metheny delivered his promised weirdness from the robotic Orchestrion, which added beats and colors to the quintet as they played songs from “Kin,” starting with a crisp clatter launching the title track. The sonically questing Metheny could have sampled sounds digitally, but the Orchestrion — odd-looking gizmos crowding the stage — were more fun to watch, bordering on the distracting.
Full-band blasts and duets — Matheny with each of the other players — kept the soundscape everchanging in this generous show.
From riff to riff
Metheny played with his usual restless drive, jumping from note to note at supernatural velocity and zipping from riff to well-formed riff with uncommon fluency. He’s chosen his Unity Group for the same agility, and chosen well. Each player has great strength, stamina and smarts. As a full-on ensemble they spanned sparse lyrical ballads to ecstatic riff blasts.
Metheny was generous with solo time; nobody wasted a beat taking charge, and nobody wasted a note making their statements. And the audience, mostly boomers, often erupted with well earned standing ovations.