quarta-feira, 18 de junho de 2014

A Conversation with Pat Metheny

Mike Ragogna: Pat, your new album Kin (←→) with your Unity Band seems to have you stepping out a little more on solos, et cetera.
Pat Metheny: Well, you know, it's funny. We had this incredible experience in 2012 with this band. We made a record that was really fun and then we did a tour, which was even more fun and the record got all this recognition. It won the Grammy that year for Best Jazz Record and a bunch of other awards around the world, but the main thing was just the rapport that we had as a band. I really wanted to keep that going. Everybody did. We were really sad as the tour was wrapping up, so I said, "Okay, 2014, everybody down?" and everybody was ready to do it. When you do a successful record, I think there's a tendency to just want to go back into the studio and make the same record again. I really didn't want to do that. I thought, "If we're going to do another round, let's try to take it someplace else." Also, I've done so many different kinds of things over the years; my own band, for such a long time, had a dramatic quality that people always talk about--records like Secret Story that I did all those years ago that have a kind of cinematic quality. I've been kind of feeling the pull to write a denser harmonic language and I thought, "Why can't I do that with this band? Why must I keep these things separate?" So I said to myself, "Okay, I might need to add one musician to this," which I did, this one guy Guilio Carmassi. He's a utility player. But I thought, "I could keep this same band going." These guys are up for anything, and we could make a very different kind of record, which I think Kin (←→) is from the first "Unity" band record. As far as my role in it goes, certainly as a band leader, to me, one of the best parts of that gig is you're almost like a curator for the musicians that you choose to surround yourself with. You want to show off their best qualities. This band is just an incredibly high level group of players. Chris Potter, to me, is probably one of the two or three most important saxophone players in the community right now. Antonio Sanchez, he's been playing with me for all these years and he has certainly emerged as the major drummer of his generation. So really, all I'm trying to do is hang with the cats. The level of playing that is at work with these guys--and that was true on the first Unity Band record, too--is very advanced, so I'm trying to write music for them and come up with a platform where everybody can be who they are and do their best including me. So it's kind of like that. If it sounds good, like I'm stepping out, that's great.
MR: So there's a tighter "unity" after the tour and the last album?
PM: "Unity" is a really good word for me. "Unity" is a word that sort of implies something that I think I've worked for my whole life as a musician. Right from the beginning, Bright Size Life sort of tried to reconcile all of the different things I loved about music and everything connected to the community of musicians that involved improvisation. I kind of think of music as one big thing, which "unity" also fits. But also, the word "kin" is a good word from another angle because it sort of implies ancestry and family and all that. For me, those kinds of words are really resonant for what I hope to offer as a musician.
MR: Do you feel like this unity has brought out nuances in or aspects of everybody's playing that haven't come out before?
PM: I think it's a very different kind of record for me. It does have some connections to other things that I've done, and I would say for the other guys, that's maybe even a little bit more true. I think that's part of the attraction for them, too, for wanting to do this. It's very different than playing "Autumn Leaves" with a bunch of guys down in a club in lower Manhattan somewhere. As much as we all kind of come from that and would love to do that, a big part of my mission has been to say, "Yeah, but." That is at the core of everything that I do as a musician, that particular language and the way that language has evolved over the last seventy or eighty years in this music. But I feel like it's a very important part of our job, and my job as a musician and band leader to sort of push things and try to get to things that are new--a different part of the language that hasn't been explored as much and to try to again reconcile all of the different things that I love about music under one roof. This band is particularly well equipped to do that.
MR: Jazz is sort of the big umbrella that one would say is your genre, but like you've said, you not only push things beyond the stereotypes of jazz and smooth jazz, but you've also been an innovator because, as we discussed in our last interview, you're credited as one of the pioneers of new age music and atmospherics. At this point in your career, do you feel like you are still jazz or have you evolved into another kind of genre or music?
PM: This discussion, which I've been on the front lines of for four years now, is not really a musical discussion. It's a politcal/cultural discussion. It's about how we choose to represent ourselves in terms of the cultural context that we're going to exist in as human beings. I sometimes look at the rock and pop world and there are things like "house" and "emo" and "death metal" and all of these things that don't really have much to say about the fact that the bass player's going to play the root on one, somebody's going to make a big noise on two and four, and it's going to be in 4/4 and you can count on that. In terms of music, they're all very deeply connected, but in terms of politics? Man, you don't want to get in between the death metal dudes and the country western guys. But it doesn't have much to do with music, it's a whole bunch of other stuff. The general community of musicians that I have been hanging with and that I am probably a pretty good representative of, we're not thinking about that stuff. We're thinking about music as one big thing. I've played with David Bowie and I've played all written music by Steve Reich. I've played free, I've played really loud, I've played really soft, I've played really complicated, I've played really simple; it's been grooving this way, grooving that way. All of these elements are things that are part of the language of music that most of the guys I've played with can play a lot of different ways, and they're actually pretty comfortable in music in general. They could play a written piece well or play a completely improvised piece. That, to me, is kind of the area that I'm interested in, and it's not a line. More than anything, I don't feel really culturally aligned with this, that or the other thing. To a certain degree, I even reject the idea of alignment. It just doesn't feel resonant to me with the way the world is now. To me, the world is increasingly fragmented by all of these cultural and political designations. But music is music, and music will always be music, the same way math will always be math. You can go to the other side of the universe and two plus two will always be two plus two. That currency of that really deep fundamental truth is the currency that I'm trading in and that I live in. It doesn't have too much to do with these various terms that people come up with. I've seen a whole bunch of them come and go and I'm like, "Okay, sure, you want to call it that, fine." But I'm not really living in that. I'm living in, "Why does B flat want to go to C?" and that is way beyond the politics of it.
MR: Recently, I interviewed many "smooth jazz" artists, and what's interesting is that many of these musicians don't consider what they're playing to be "smooth." They play more aggressively and it makes all of the labeling and even the terminology no longer valid. Like you're saying, in their minds, they're just playing music.
PM: Yeah. I think that all you can really do is honestly represent what you love about music. For me, as a fan of music, whenever I run across a musician who is really honestly trying to make a sound that is a reflection of who they are and what they love I usually have a pretty positive response to it. I think it can show up in the infinity of different ways in which every person is different from each other, too. That's part of the excitement of music to me, the incredible variety of ways that people can be musicians. It's been a fantastic learning experience for me to learn about everything in life through music. I kind of feel like I've learned about science through music, I've learned about love through music, I've learned about math through music, I've learned about everything through the prism of a deeper and richer understanding of how music works and what it is. I think there's also no reason that everything can't be compatible if it's done with a certain kind of honesty and integrity. There are many, many examples of that from classical music on. There are lots of ways that people have been able to reconcile very disparate materials into a whole that's--to use the word--unified.
MR: That word bringing us back to the Pat Metheny Unity Group. Pat, when you're creating music these days, do you have the intention to innovate?
PM: I will say that when I first started playing my big hero then and now was Wes Montgomery. When I first started playing, I played with my thumb and did everything I could do to sound like Wes. As a twelve or thirteen year old kid around Kansas City, I even got a certain amount of attention for that. "Wow, look at this kid, he can kind of sound like Wes Montgomery." There was a point, though, that I realized I loved Wes so much that what I was doing was actually disrespectful to Wes. What Wes had done was to find a way of being as a musician that was his own way of being. I realized I wanted to do what he did, not what he did, if you know what I mean. I wanted to do that. I wanted to see if I could find a way to be the musician I was the same way that he found the way to be the musician that he was. Now whether that resulted in innovation or just a process of, "Okay, I feel like I'm going to play something in octaves but I'm not going to do that, I'm going to stop myself from doing that." That is a willful thing. I think there is a point where you have to say, "Okay, I'm not going to do this, I'm not going to do that," and as you start paring things away other things start to emerge. You have to make room for those things to happen, though. I think that process for me of just not doing certain things has allowed room for lots of other things to emerge that maybe I never would have imagined had I not made room for them to happen.
MR: Beautifully said. What advice do you have for new artists?
PM: I think probably what I said last time, because I usually say it, is that the best thing that can happen is to be around musicians who are better than you are. Generally speaking, if you're the best guy in a band you're in, you should try to be in a different band. That's still really the main thing I would tell people, because you learn how to play from being around people who can play. That's how I learn, that's how everybody learns. So as much as you can study it in school and from records and this, that, and the other thing, there's nothing like being around somebody who can really play and you're sitting right next to that person. That's what I would say.
MR: When you're recording with the Unity Group, are you all in awe of what's being created and are you learning from each other?
PM: "Awe" might be a little bit hard to sustain over the course of two hundred gigs. When you're in the bathroom at three in the morning on the bus and you're falling all over each other, "awe" is not the first word that comes to mind. But I will say, when I see what Chris [Potter] can do night after night after night after night after night, there's a different kind of "awe" that emerges, which is that it's really only after you play a hundred gigs with somebody that you know what they really sound like. Nobody is going to reinvent themselves night after night, but within the subtlety of night after night playing, you start to understand the depth of somebody in a way that somebody who only hears them play once never will. I will say that part of my reasons for wanting to keep this band going like this has been the incredible respect that I have for those guys on that night after night basis. That's a very difficult thing for me to find with people. It's not too hard to find somebody that's going to sound good for ten gigs or twenty gigs, but to find somebody who can really keep it interesting for a hundred and fifty gigs is rare. This band has that. We played all over the world that year and the first gig was just as much fun as the last gig. That's a great thing.
MR: Pat, what is your impression of all of these prestigious awards and acknowledgements you've received, especially recently, for your solo and group works?
PM: I really try to appreciate it, and I do. There are certain honors that are unbelievable to me. I never would've anticipated or expected them in a million years. At the same time, because I do live my life playing so much... In Pasadena, I played a gig and I played the best I've ever played. I finally got to that solo on that fourth tune that I'd been hoping I'd get to all tour long, I got it. I finally did it. Then we're playing in Phoenix and it doesn't matter what I played in Pasadena. The people in Phoenix don't care what I played in Pasadena because tonight, I'm in Phoenix and I've got to play that third tune again and I hope I don't mess it up. My whole life is geared to enjoying stuff while it's happening and then moving on. If you come to my house you're not going to see one award or anything on the wall. I really appreciate it. I feel honored and humbled by it all, but my thing is, "Okay, tomorrow is the next thing," and that's the only thing for me, what's happening next.
Transcribed By Galen Hawthorne

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