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Catching Up With

Pat Metheny: Pulling It All Together

By Published: August 20, 2012
PM: "Unity" is a good word for me. The principles of what the word "unity" implies on a conceptual level have always been strong for me. Part of what makes America and the music that has come from here unique is the fundamental reality of our society as a melting pot of the best of so many cultures and peoples from all over the world. But also on an aesthetic level, as much as people have invented arbitrary marketing terms like "jazz" or "fusion" or whatever the next one may be, the undercurrent of my musical life has always been one of reconciliation and unification of all the sounds and ideas that I love as one big singular thing.

This band is a real manifestation of that spirit. We really are using all the unique qualities available to us as individuals and as an ensemble and hopefully creating a greater whole out of all of that to make something true to itself. From the stylistic range of the music presented, which is sort of all over the map, to the instruments used, from acoustic to electronic to even robotic on the Orchestrion track ["Signals (Orchestrion Sketch)"], to the spectrum of peoples we represent as individuals, there is a huge variety of elements to set in motion. But I feel like, at the same time, there is a continuum at work there that connects to the other things I have tried to do as a leader and composer and where the other guys are coming from too. "Unity Band" seemed to be a really good name for this project.

AAJ: What is the likelihood that this band is an ongoing concern or one you will revisit?

PM: We are about a third of the way through the tour now—and it has really been a lot of fun and the music has continued to develop as often happens in these kinds of things when you go out on the road like this. I could definitely see us doing something again at some point along the way. It is a really excellent group and a very nice mix of personalities. I think we have all enjoyed the experience of being together and getting to know each other and the concerts have been so much fun.

AAJ: At this stage of your career and craftsmanship, what do you look for in the musicians you work with, beyond proficiency. How have your hopes and expectations in this regard changed?

PM: It is pretty simple. Mainly I love being around people who are great. I have been in a lot of situations with lots of different kinds of musicians over the years, but my favorite is being with people who are confident and professional and don't need a lot of handholding, people who can just get out there and play great and in a way that is appropriate in every way to the musical environment that is being set up for them to perform in. I have noticed that the people who are the best musicians are also usually the ones who complain the least and take care of business the most. There are a few exceptions to that, but it is really nice when that is the case—and that is really the way it is with everyone this band, so I love that about it.

Beyond that, I do look for people who one way or another have achieved a certain singularity. I don't think I have ever had a band where it was just kind of "anyone." All through the years whenever I have put something together a lot of effort is made to find just the right people for the idea at hand.

AAJ: You bring some very tasteful and interesting sounds to what could have been a very straightforward set. Your work on "Roofdogs," in particular, is really dramatic. At what point, between conception and recording, do you determine the sonic palette you will employ for a song?

PM: It all goes together. To a certain degree, the particulars of the setting and the tunes themselves always wind up calling the shots in terms of orchestration, but I think I always go into things with a certain willful desire to push things and keep things interesting in terms of sound. To me, the sound of things is the first and foremost aspect of what it is to be a musician. So often I run across guys who play all kinds of hip stuff but don't really have much of a sonic identity. Musicians always appreciate the hipness of the lines, etc., but to other folks it just doesn't sound that good or that distinctive. Your sound is kind of the first impression that you give a listener.

AAJ: What instruments did you compose these songs on and is that different from how you typically write?

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