Pat Metheny: Pulling It All Together
AAJ: How did saxophonist Chris Potter become known to you?
PM: I have been following Chris since he first came on the scene playing with [trumpeter] Red Rodney all those years ago. I was a fan right away and have enjoyed his playing all along. But I remember hearing him about halfway through his stay with [bassist] Dave Holland and walking out of the performance feeling like he had transcended to a different level. To me, he is one of the most brilliant improvising musicians I have ever been around.
AAJ: So which came first, the actual ensemble of players or the compositions?
PM: First was a conversation with Chris. When he expressed enthusiasm for doing something, then it was a matter of deciding on a rhythm section. I thought about a lot of different combinations and directions we could go in with guys. In a lot of ways, [drummer] Antonio Sanchez was kind of an obvious choice; he has been one of my closest associates over the past ten years or so and has also played a lot with Chris. But I never take Antonio for granted. He is such a special musician and it has been great to see his development up close from the vantage point that I have enjoyed through all the gigs and projects we have done together. He really is a remarkable drummer in that he is kind of in a category of onethere is no one else really like him. There was a certain kind of power I knew that Chris and I would be getting to and I can't think of anyone who could take us to that place better than Antonio.
A few years ago, [bassist] Christian McBride invited me to an event that he was leading with the jazz students at Juilliard. Ben Williams was featured on bass on a few tunes and I had that great feeling that you get when you hear someone for the first time that has something special to say. I used Ben a few times on a couple of gigs that Christian couldn't make with the trio and found him to be a great playing partner and a great person too. He and Antonio had an instantly effortless rapport. Ben is the kind of musician who has a fearless and open-minded approach to what music can be which made him perfect for this band. I really enjoy playing with him and he was fun to write for, too; his whole vibe suggests something to me. He has more than a little bit of a Jaco [Pastorius]'s melodic influence going on in his playing. Finding guys who can really play great melodies has always been hard, and Ben has natural way of using space as well as being able really get around the instrument; a great combination of skills. After winning the Thelonious Monk Competition a few years ago, he has become more and more in demand and I am very happy he is doing this. He brings something really special to this group.
AAJ: How did knowing the lineup impact the songwriting?
PM: With everyone in place, I spent a few weeks listening to all the recent recordings I could find of these guys, their own as well as the way they played on other people's records. I kind of made notes as to what kinds of things I thought we could do well together and tried to write towards those things, but at the same time trying to create music that would have a certain identity to it.
AAJ: Ben and Antonio bring such expressiveness and sensitivity to these recordings. Had you played with them both together before?
PM: Antonio, of course, has been one of my main collaborators for 13 years now. We have played together in so many situations and have a great rapport. We had a chance to do a gig in Mexico last year and I really wanted to try someone new and remembered Ben. It went well and that was the first time we played together as a rhythm section.
AAJ: What does the "Unity" in the project's name refer to? How does the meaning inform the music?