An Interview With Pat Metheny: Speaking Of Now

The Next Chapter In The Pat Metheny Group Journey Is Stronger Than Ever After 25 Years Of Innovation

February 15, 2002 by Fred Gerantab for

2/15/2002 - The Pat Metheny Group has spanned 25 years as the most celebrated and unparalleled project of its kind. Formed by Pat Metheny in 1977, the group's travels span over a dozen groundbreaking recordings, tours in over 40 countries, too many Grammy awards to list, and most of all, their place as one of the most revolutionary contemporary music ensembles ever. Extending beyond the boundaries of jazz and virtuosity, PMG has continuously sought to create new musical territory through experimentation, careful attention to detail, and depth beyond imagination.

The core group of Pat Metheny, Steve Rodby and Lyle Mays, welcomes a new generation of imagination into the group with the new lineup, featuring the multi-talented Richard Bona on vocals/percussion (who has become a staple on the contemporary jazz scene since his 1999 Columbia debut Scenes From My Life), NY-based trumpeter Cuong Vu (whose music caused Metheny to personally seek him out for the project) and drummer Antonio Sanchez, whom Metheny discovered on a joint tour as part of the Danilo Perez Trio.

The result: Speaking of Now, the next chapter in the Metheny Group journey that continues the tradition of musicianship and exploration carried on these past 25 years. As the title says, the group's journey is never-ending, and the goal is to always look ahead to the next level while never forgetting what is behind you.

I was very fortunate to catch up with Pat Metheny, whose creativity, legendary guitar work, and creative perfectionism have been the cornerstone of the contemporary jazz scene since 1975. How did it feel to move back into group mode after the success and extensive touring in the trio setting? Was there any adjustment period coming from the more scaled down setting, or was it fairly natural to shift back into the full group mode?

Pat Metheny: It was very natural, as is always the case when I come back to the group…something very special. That's the environment that I've lived most of my life and for the last 25 years. The fact that it continues to go on and we have so much to talk about, the fact that it's so expansive and a wonderful place to put our energy is just great. The time with the trio ended up being a significant amount of time. I hadn't really anticipated that when it launched. I thought it was going to be a 4-week tour. We ended up with three CDs of material and a couple of hundred gigs under our belt. By the time we started to wrap-up, I was starting to get the itch for that bigger sound, the incredible stylistic range and potential that only the group harbors. In your own opinion, how do you feel Speaking Of Now is different from past PMG albums? All PMG records have that amazing signature sound, but I would imagine that with each recording there is something new that you try to introduce or focus on.

Pat Metheny: Well, I think that there are some records that come along that are more revolutionary, more developmental. I think this is a more developmental kind of record. Having said that, there are significant things about this CD that are quite unlike other records, although they are very subtle. There's not the overt, weird, new guitar kinds of things like on ID, like on We Live Here. There was a very specific task involved, or on like the record Quartet, where we used acoustic instruments.

The challenge for me this time was that we've got these new younger guys on the record. For the first time, we have three guys who are chronologically one generation younger than the rest of us, and from very different places across the jazz panorama and geographically. One thing they all had in common was that listening to Pat Metheny Group records formed part of their musical DNA.

I was very much affected by their enthusiasm for what it meant to be in this band, particularly the records that they all kept raving about, like the late 80's stuff: Still Life Talking, and all that. That caused me to go back and listen to those records and say, 'OK, what were those, and what was that?' I realized for the last number of years, I really haven't been putting a priority on melody the same way I used to. So, before I called Lyle and went into the studio or did anything, I wanted to just generate a bunch of melodic material that I felt had that same weight to it, that same quality. The notes have to go this way, the chords have to follow this way. I spent the last few months trying to write melodic stuff that had that lasting quality, and that's sort of what the record is built around. What, if any, is a given constant with each PMG CD? What is something that you feel strongly about keeping consistent between each new record?

Pat Metheny: Wow, that's a hard one [pauses]. I think that there's a real attention to detail that's always been in all of our records. We really work in such a way that everything matters…every chord, every transition, regardless of what we're trying to do stylistically. That level of detail is a priority for me. I know that often you tailor your compositions around the sound and style of the players. Tell us a little about this process, how it took place and came to fruition in the studio, particularly with these very distinct new players?

Pat Metheny: Well, the biggest change is that we have this really incredible new drummer. Antonio (Sanchez) brings a world of possibilities to this band that are really incredibly inspiring. They come in not only in the form of his drumming abilities, but his sort of musical and personal maturity that kind of gives a weight to everything. It's allowed us to dream about some stuff that we really hadn't thought of before.

This is in no way diminishes the considerable talents of our previous drummers. Both Paul and Danny are great drummers, but Antonio is dealing with the instrument on such an incredibly advanced level, that there's this sort of internal precision to everything that he does. It's just kind of awe-inspiring in a way. But beside that, he's just such a great jazz drummer and as far as I know, there's never really been a drummer quite like him that can do all those things. So, we really wanted to take advantage of that and connect it stylistically to what the band is all about. Has anything you have been listening to lately contributed a lot to your compositions and/or playing? I'm sure your avid listeners would want to know what's in your CD player at any given time.

Pat Metheny: I have to admit these last couple of years, in terms of listening time, have been really diminished by the fact that I've got two little kids at home. So, if I'm listening to anything it's like "Thomas The Train," or "Sesame Street" or stuff like that. So, I haven't been really able to stay up on things like I used to do. But, I still listen to a lot of the same things I always listen to, like Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and Miles, and the stuff that's great. And, I try and keep up on all of the latest major jazz releases.

I always enjoy what I'm listening to, but nothing lately that's had a huge effect on me. One thing about this band and this record is, there's so much stuff that we've dealt with and done…so many implications, that we could spend almost a lifetime dealing with it. I haven't felt like we've had to go out and get all kinds of new information in order to just write some tunes. I've always had 60 or 70 tunes that are unrecorded that are just sitting around. The challenge is not so much to go and get new stuff, but to sit down and record all of these new ideas. Let's focus for a minute strictly on your own playing. In my eyes, your trademark is that your solo sections in themselves are like mini-compositions within the context of the song. How often do you write out solo sections, or do you establish a general framework of what you want to play and rely solely on improvisation?

Pat Metheny: You just said a 'general framework and rely solely on improvisation'...that's kind of the idea of doing it. We do spend a lot of time writing solo form, which often is quite different than what the original tune suggests. On this record, there are tunes where the form that we solo doesn't happen anyplace else, other than the solo. Or, we'll build modulations into the solo form to give it a dramatic structure, as opposed to just playing the same 32 bars over and over again. That's a little different than what you were talking about, which is actually writing out a literal solo, which to tell you the truth, I don't think I could do if I wanted to (laughs). This may sound like an odd question, but I've always been fascinated with the titles of PMG albums. Sometimes they are more obvious than others, but what does "Speaking of Now" represent in this particular case?

Pat Metheny: I think that could be like our motto, right from day one. I think we could have called any record we've made that. It's such an important part of what this band is about. It seems like so much of jazz is about looking backwards now, paying homage to previous masters. That's all great. I can't say I have any big problem with that, but I feel like the best jazz is about people addressing the particularities of their own unique time. That's something that this band has been fully committed to right from the get-go. You've accomplished so many things, from groundbreaking albums to film scoring, collaborations, you name it, but the world of music is ever unfolding. Is there anything you've longed to try and have not yet done…perhaps a hint toward future projects or themes?

Pat Metheny: To tell you the truth, when I finish a record like this, I'm just so glad to get it done and be happy with it. Like I am with this one. I kind of favor that 6-month period before I think about what the next one's going to be.

I'm in that state right now where all I'm really concerned with is how we're going to play this music live, and that sort of thing. I always have millions of ideas. I can't say that I have any particular one right now that's likely to emerge as the front-runner. In a way, I'd love to do another record with this band right away. I've even considered not doing a tour so we could make another record. There were so many potential things we could do with this lineup and I wanted to really work them in a way. But, I admit that going out on the road will be really great for this lineup. I'm looking forward to another record right after that. Pat, we would like to thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us today. We wish you continued success with your new release.

For more information: Official Pat Metheny Group Website

maintained by Thomas Hönisch TOP last update: February 17, 2002