At this point it feels a little inadequate to call Pat Metheny a virtuoso or a master of the guitar. He’s both, and a lot more. With this excellent new band, he’s a mentor, a talent scout, and a visionary. Side-Eye originated a few years ago when Metheny decided he wanted to work with younger musicians in order to play a role similar to that of such legendary musicians as Art Blakey and Duke Ellington. As a result, he found the truly amazing keyboard multi-instrumentalist James Francies, and, as we can all hear on the recently released live Side-Eye recording, a talented young drummer named Marcus Gilmore.
Since that recording in 2019, the drum chair has passed to another outstanding young player, Joe Dyson, and on Wednesday night at the Lobero, he was mesmerizing. Whether he was urging the other two on with the ride cymbal, or happily meshing with the mechanized clatter of Metheny’s Orchestrion Jr., Dyson rocked the house. Francies’s playing was equally impressive, as he easily shifted between tossing of spirited hard bop runs at the piano and piloting an array of other keyboards to introduce vamps, samples, and drones to the mix.
Metheny played as only he can, coaxing delicate melodies out of his familiar hollow body guitar and then switching to an electric guitar synthesizer to unleash eerily trumpet-like solos. The one-of-a-kind Pikasso guitar, an instrument that few others could conceive of, never mind play, made its appearance late in a more-than-two-hour set that included plenty of material from early in Metheny’s career, including “Bright Size Life” and “Better Days Ahead.” This show was a treat from beginning to end and augured great things to come for the Jazz at the Lobero series.