Pat Metheny found the perfect pairing

March 29, 2007 by Daniel Durchholz for STLtoday.com


There's just no pinning Pat Metheny down, at least when he's playing music.

From the highly polished, pop- and Brazilian-flavored Pat Metheny Group recordings to groundbreaking experimental work with Ornette Coleman, collaborations with pop icons Joni Mitchell and David Bowie, and duet, trio and quartet performances with stellar players such as Herbie Hancock, Charlie Haden and John Scofield, there is little that the fabled guitarist and Missouri native can't do.

But Metheny can be very precise and informative when he's talking about music. He knows what he is looking for in other musicians, and lately he seems to have found it in pianist Brad Mehldau - a young jazz lion who is not only making records that sell but also pushing the music forward.

The guitarist and the pianist recently collaborated on two albums: last year's "Metheny/Mehldau," featuring mostly duets, and the new "Quartet." Mehldau's usual accompanists, bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, perform on both albums and on the tour.

Metheny spoke by phone recently from Phoenix.

Q: What are your impressions of Brad as a player and composer? And how did your collaboration come about?

A: From the time Brad emerged, I was such an enthusiastic fan of his. I was just hungering for somebody who played with that kind of command of harmony and that kind of skill on the instrument - but mostly in the area of melodic playing. That's the thing that is the hardest to find, for me as a fan: people who can take things and work with them and come up with melodic material that not only sounds good, but has that quality of being inevitable, and at the same time surprising. Brad has that, which is thrilling.

And then I saw some interviews where he referenced me. It was very flattering to be name-checked by somebody who is dealing at that level, but there was also a part of me that thought it kind of made sense. We're both looking for the same thing in some ways. In the civilian world, you might end a conversation with someone by saying, "Let's have lunch," or something like that. The musician version of that is, "We should play sometime." But whenever Brad and I would do that, it would be like, "We should really play sometime."

Q: You recorded two dozen tracks in just a couple of days. How did you do that? We're not talking punk rock here.

A: Even by jazz standards, we're not talking about, "Here's a blues, here's a bossa nova." It's pretty dense music. I don't know why it worked. It was one of those things where, from the first note, we could both kind of do what we do. That's not often the case when you play with somebody. But we found we could kind of start at our best and go from there. That was apparent after about 30 seconds.

Q: Were you at all concerned about how that music would eventually arrive in the marketplace? Here you have two albums, released within six months of each other. Why do it that way, instead of one double album?

A: Brad and I are not only on the same label, we're probably on the best label (Nonesuch). The guy who runs it, Bob Hurwitz, is the guy who ran ECM all the years I recorded for them. I've known him for 30 years. In this case, we didn't make a big deal about it. We just wanted to go into the studio and play. When it was all said and done, I went to Bob and said, "Hey, Bob, here's a whole bunch of music that we just recorded. Now what?"

And Bob really figured out how to present it. It was his idea to put them out not as a double record, which I totally agree with. It would have been too much. To have one record that focused mostly on the duets and another on the quartets, and to have them out in time for the tour - that was the general framework.

Q: Both albums are selling really well. Will you follow them up by recording the tour and releasing a live album?

A: We are recording. At this point, it's pretty easy to record everything. So yeah, we are. But both Brad and I probably have too many records out anyway (laughs). So I don't know if we'll release anything. But it's always good to document things.

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