Pat Metheny’s Unity Factor

The Jazz Guitar Great Returns to the Lobero Theatre

<b>IT'S PAT:</b> Pat Metheny returns to town with his Unity Group on Wednesday night.

METHENY, 2014 MODEL: Santa Barbara has been lucky over the years — decades, actually — to be privy in an up-close and personal way with jazz guitar great Pat Metheny’s long and winding musical life, through his different projects, detours, and incarnations. Something about catching musicians live, especially with masters in the in-the-moment forum of jazz, etches the experience into your memory banks, and there have been many memorable Metheny moments in the 805, which we can cross reference and organize into our collective mental/cultural filing system.

His last two shows in town were in the form of his fantastical, high-flying one-man contraptional circus of a show, called Orchestrion, at UCSB’s Campbell Hall, and two years ago, when his fascinating Unity Group, seized the air of the Lobero. Wednesday night at the Lobero, Metheny returns in Unity Group mode, but this time the band has morphed. The original quartet was a more organic, jazz-centric band, in which the presence of tenor sax great Chris Potter reminded us of Metheny’s old 80/81 band (which also played the Lobero, in the way back when). The new, expanded band, amended by the addition of multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi, veers closer to the emotional, epic, and eclectic designs of the guitarist’s Pat Metheny Group, as heard on the new album Kin (←→). Whatever the patina or flavor, a full and fulfilling night of musical fiber is pretty much guaranteed whenever Metheny takes the stage.

NEW MALIAN PRINCESS OF SONG: In what is probably the (so-called) “world music” event of the season, the great young Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara brings her beguiling hybrid African-globalized voice to Campbell Hall on Thursday — a not-to-miss occasion. Some will remember the local show by reigning Malian vocalist queen, Oumou Sangaré, a kind of mentor and cultural/spiritual guidance counselor for the actress-turned-musician Diawara, whose 2012 debut album Fatou took the European world music airwaves by storm. The album is a stunner, a thing of quiet, deep and strong musical powers, at once exotic and universal — the desired, magic blend.

NAMM ECHOES: Come January, two major events in the musical universe with similar-sounding names — NAMM and the Grammies — illustrate how truly diversified the world of music is, encompassing the normally Balkan-ized worlds of pop (in its myriad forms), classical, jazz, and other subgroupings under one proverbial roof. Of course, the Grammies quarantine off the more serious music for the non-televised segment of the awards, for fear of scaring or boring the dumbed-down general audience, and the massive annual NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) show at the Anaheim Convention Center tends to be lorded over, sonically, by loud rock licks and virtual/digital simulacra. But still, the vastness of music, and its tools, has its day.

At 2014’s NAMM, Santa Barbara and the tri-counties had its usual slice of the convention pie, especially over at the Seymour Duncan booth, which was a more scaled-down encore of the lavishly hip psychedelic hang zone that premiered two years back for the company’s 35th-anniversary celebration. SLO-based Ernie Ball went all out, as usual, with a vaudevillian circus motif, and Santa Barbara dotcom sensation had its own understated presence, part of a growing contingency at NAMM from the online/app landscape.

Speaking of Santa Barbara, I ran into Jamie Faletti, the owner of the much buzzed-about new Guitar Bar music store in the Funk Zone, at the downstairs booth for the prized Santa Cruz acoustic guitars. (I’ll take one, please.) Talking about the infamous NAMM fatigue syndrome and info overload, he said, “By about hour five, the heavy metal guitar licks start to get to you.”

I always love what is to be found in the funkier, earthier downstairs hall, where crackpot inventors and humbler entrepreneurs mix it up with ukulele makers (definitely an expanding population at NAMM, and in the world), boutique acoustic guitar companies, and other enlightened misfits mingle. This year, I was intrigued by the custom hand-painted guitar effects boxes by the Greek company JAM, and the guitars by Bohemian, with old oil cans and lunch boxes for bodies. Why not? Slap a coupla’ good Seymour Duncan pickups in ‘em, and crank it up.

One entry in the growing smartphone music-app department is the moForte, offering faux guitar apps for air guitarists. And in other old school meets new school news, the inspiring story of the revival of the Moog company continues, gauged by the steady growth of the size of its NAMM booth (a measure of success in the gear world) and the expansion of its renewed popularity. It’s a renascent and proud, pioneering retro synth company, makers of cool neo-theremins, Moogerfoogers, and keyboards with actual knobs.

Upstairs, up in the area where Fender, Gibson, and others lurk, Line 6, the go-to amp modeling company, was stirring excitement with its bizarre new AMPLIFi amps, which connect to cloud-sourced music and replicates the guitar tones — as the demo guitar did with AC/DC’s “Back in Black,” summoning Angus Young’s actual tone and magically transporting it through the amp.

I had to process this strange magic and its virtual implications by heading across the hall to the warm embrace of the Taylor acoustic guitar hangout. It’s a NAMM thing.


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