Speaking of Jazz
20 Minutes with Pat Metheny
by Fred Morales
During a musical career that has spanned more than 20 years, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny has developed a reputation for blurring and obliterating stylistic conventions in pursuit of a truly unique sound. Fans the world over recognize his innovative playing, and his work remains on the cutting edge of modern jazz.
With the release of “Speaking of Now,” their 11th album, the Pat Metheny Group returns to Houston after a three-year absence. Forming the core of the group is Metheny, keyboardist and group co-founder Lyle Mays and veteran bass player Steve Rodby. New members of the group include Antonio Sanchez on drums, Richard Bona on percussion and vocals and Cuong Vu on trumpet. Recently, H Texas spoke to Metheny from his home in New York City.
Let me just say that I’ve enjoyed your work since the release of “American Garage” in 1980. Now after listening to the new album, “Speaking of Now,” I’m just blown away. What would you say was the main inspiration behind this collection of tunes?
Well, I would say that every time we get together with the Group it’s a special thing. I mean this is a band that at this point has a fairly significant history – I mean you just mentioned an album that was recorded 20-some years ago. It’s really been a long continuous research project into music, trying to figure out some real alternative ways to think about things. That word “alternative” gets thrown around a lot now, but it’s probably a little bit forgotten how unusual our approach was when we first started relative to what had happened in jazz before that. I think the basic premise that we started on has never exactly gone away. We’re still working on a lot of the same ideas, trying to blend electric and acoustic instruments together in unusual and hopefully good, responsible, musical ways that people will enjoy.
So having said all that, it’s like, OK, we’re going to get together and do a new record. It was time to kind of shake things up in the band a little bit. The major changes in the rhythm section, with an incredible new drummer in Antonio, I think in many ways is the major inspiration for a lot of the new music. He’s got a range of things he can do stylistically and still sound like a jazz drummer. I’ve been able to play with most of the great drummers in jazz, and there hasn’t really been anybody quite like him show up for quite a while.
So a lot of the music was sort of built around that. Then we realized that we’ve got this whole platform as a rhythm section going, and so we did a bunch of auditions, and both Richard and Cuong emerged as these incredibly gifted and quite well-known musicians who wanted to play with us. Like Antonio, they had both grown up listening to our group and really wanted to do the gig.
So we found ourselves with this all-star band with very distinct and unique and wonderful personalities, and writing for that was stimulating and a real pleasure.
It sounds like it’s been an exciting process just assembling the members of the band.
It really has been. From the early days of the group, we’ve enjoyed it, and it’s really satisfying to see how successful the band has become and that we’ve actually managed to survive. But this was especially rewarding. I think we’re all really happy with the way the record came out and to see what it will be like to do a tour with everybody in this lineup.
It seems as though many fans would simply like to hear some of your older songs over and over again. Do those ever get old to you?
Well, to tell you the truth, there are a bunch of those older tunes that I probably could play 24 hours a day. I mean, I just never get tired of playing “Are You Going With Me?” or some of the older stuff.
There are bands that seem to completely reinvent themselves every few years, and we’ve certainly had our little tangents, but the basic premise of what we’re trying to do has remained intact. This new record, with these three new guys who grew up listening to us, made us look back at stuff that we had done in the past and say, “Wow, here are these three great musicians that were influenced by us. What did we do exactly?”
Let’s talk a little bit about Houston. Several prominent musicians are from here, including Kirk Whalum, Joe Sample, Ronnie Laws, to name a few. How would you describe Houston audiences?
Houston’s great, but just a little unpredictable. It seems to change every few years. I’m thinking maybe more so during the eighties, during the boom and bust. Houston has a good reputation as a jazz town from other musicians on tour.
But Houston is one of those places where, just like all across America, people tend to want to stay home now. I’m from Kansas City and it’s the same way there. It takes a lot to motivate people to get into their cars and come check out your show. That?s why interviews like this are so important, because we need to get the message out about what we’re doing. But we always do well in Houston.
The Pat Metheny Group, Verizon Wireless Theater, Saturday, March 30, 8 p.m.
For tickets visit www.ticketmaster.com.