FJ: You featured Jaco Pastorius on your ECM debut, Bright Size Life.
PM: Well, he was one of my very closest friends, one of my best friends. It was a very exciting period for all of us. Of course, for anybody getting to make your first record is a significant occasion and certainly, in my case, it was magnified by the fact that it was going to be on ECM, which at that time was probably the most exciting music label as far as presenting new musicians and new artists of that era. To be picked by them to do a record and they had very few guitar players at all, to get that opportunity was a huge thing for me and very exciting.
At the same time, Jaco and I were both really on a mission to find a way to play and find a way to present our instruments in an improvisational environment that expressed our dissatisfaction with the status quo at the time. It is funny because our take on things, as reflected on that record and particularly in the trio as it existed around that time, which the record somewhat represents, but doesn't fully capture, was quite a departure from the sound of jazz at that moment in time.
Ironically, I now am classified by people who should know better as a "fusion" guy, but at that time, first of all, that word didn't exist. In fact, I was a violent reactionary to the fusion of that time. I really didn't want to hear backbeats and rock beats and distorted guitar sounds. I really wanted to deal with harmony. I didn't want to play on one chord or two chords.
In Jaco's case, it was the same thing. We were really interested in dealing with a harmonic territory that hadn't really been dealt with much at all. The general reaction to that record when it came out at the time was kind of blasé. People noticed it a little bit, but it seems like every year that goes by, that record has a more higher standing. It is interesting to see how long it takes for the message that you are trying to communicate to trickle down.
FJ: Through the years, you have stymied writers who have tried to pin a category on you by playing with free jazz icons Dewey Redman and Ornette Coleman, while playing an audible musical spectrum with your own groups classified as everything from "folk" jazz to "contemporary" jazz, and then throwing in the critical monkey wrench, playing with avant superhero Derek Bailey.
PM: Every new little thing that comes up, there are these different terms that are used that are foreign to me. Fusion would be a good example, or world music, or even avant-garde. What does that mean? All these terms kind of come and go. It is weird. I have been around a long enough time to see the ebb and flow of all of the things that swirl around thing and they are largely political. I have been able to just keep my eye on the music and have watched with a certain kind of amusement over the years as people try to struggle to fit whatever my thing is into whatever their thing is.
For better or for worse, there is nothing even remotely like it. It is kind of not connected to other things. I have occasionally gone over to somebody else's yard for a while and I enjoy that, but the larger day to day stuff that I'm working on and trying to get good at, doesn't really connect with the larger trends and the larger issues.
FJ: The current Pat Metheny Group features new additions, Cuong Vu and Antonio Sanchez, as well as Lyle Mays and Richard Bona.
PM: It is a very particular thing. We don't all, in the context of the group, do everything that we all like to do as individuals. The group thing has evolved to the point that it is a wide open opportunity to explore areas of form and sound, but it doesn't allow everybody to do everything they do. That is the nature of anything that is as long running as this band's history is. It kind of has a life of its own.
I wouldn't have somebody come into the group that wasn't extremely aware of what the group is and what it has been and where it can go. In the case of Cuong, the guy is a complete scholar of ours. He knew everything about everything, all the records, all the tunes. In his case, it was a goal for him to be in the band at some point. Antonio Sanchez, our new drummer, is just a musician. I can't even believe somebody like that was born. He is really one of the greatest musicians I have ever seen. Same with Richard Bona, he had heard us a bunch of times and had always wanted to do it. With those guys, in a way, it is a first for me, to have guys from clearly one generation younger come into the band that had a very strong sense of the band and its history and knew all the tunes before we even started.