AAJ: I almost feel that I'm learning a new way of living and thinking from you. Getting back to the music. Your new CD, Think Tank gives a feeling of continuity, as if all the tracks form one piece. But I can't quite put my finger on what provides that continuity. I notice that the album cover has an archetypal form on it- A Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome, geometric shapes and connections. Was it then, truly a 'think tank?'
PM: It was more of a think tank than ever before, primarily because when this came up, it came up prior to a decision about what it was going to be. When interacting with, say, a record company, there are feelings that are encompassed in a corporate continuity in terms of marketing. The recording should be connected to what happened last. If I did a project that was successful in sales, then the next one should take advantage of what made it so. However, my decision to bring Think Tank about had nothing to do with my last CD, and because of that, it created an abrasive static in terms of a decisive direction. And I had to give some thought as to how to entice, excite, and bring everyone else into it with the same excitement that I had about change in itself. I've always been excited by change. There'll always be a meaning to be found in the midst of it. So that was the initial ignition. So I thought about Blue Note artists, about Joe Lovano and Gonzalo Rubalcaba, and I thought it would be great to market this opportunity, to go closer into a collective multiplication. Why don't we include the others' success as well? Let's put all of us together and start from there. That became a project in itself, in terms of coordinating itineraries and everything that went with it. Very difficult. Then I began to think about the music itself, and the title tune was the first that came about. I had a student in 2001, a professional musician. He came in and wanted to talk about 'Giant Steps.' When I was preparing something for him, I tried to get him to transcend just that tune and those changes.
So here was a student who was interested in 'Giant Steps,' and more than anything, because of what it brought to him regarding facility, to be able to move through this quickly- that was the complex. I wanted the simple as well. If you ask for the complex, I will give you the complex, but I also will give you the simple, primarily because the totality of it has to be seen holistically, otherwise you only have half the coin. So I took the alphabet from A-Z, and I took the Aeolian mode, ABCDEFG, in the C major scale. And I took those notes and spanned them from A to Z so that the entire alphabet now became that A minor scale. And then I took C-O-L-T-R-A-N-E, AND C-O-L [Pat sings the notes] and T-R-A-N-E and then T-E-N-O-R [sings], and there was 'Think Tank.' There was the alphabet. And an interface of two systems that transcended a musicianship, a musical hunger for accomplishment on his behalf.
AAJ: What's the significance of the Phineas part of 'Phineas Trane?'
PM: I was on an album with Harold Mabern, and Harold wrote that song for Eric Alexander in dedication to Phineas Newborn Jr. and John Coltrane.
AAJ: What is the significance of the names?
PM: The proper pronunciation of Phineas is 'FINAS'. It was just Harold's dedication to both of them, naming it the 'Finest Trane,' so to speak. I added that to the album because primarily it was such a challenge to me to base a song on the major scale. The B flat major scale is the bridge. At any rate, Trane appeared. I fell in love with the song because I never learned from scales. Just like Wes Montgomery, I was primarily self-taught, just from melodies and not from scales.
AAJ: Joe Pass was also self-taught.
PM: Absolutely. Quite a number of artists were self taught. But then that was the second time Trane appeared. The third time, at the session itself, I had heard Christian Mc Bride playing [Pat sings] 'Africa.' Coltrane. It really hit me because he was playing two bass parts! Because on the album 'Afro Brass'- Eric Dolphy did the arrangements- there were two bass players. Well, here's Christian playing both parts simultaneously! Which he did on the CD. So again, Trane popped up. So many things came up in this context, that the music itself began to have a great continuity with its purpose. In the case of the focal point as a meaningful part of its essence was John Coltrane. Another part of it had to do with interacting with the student who brought about the tune 'Think Tank.' That student also later brought about another composition on the album, 'A Dozen Down.' This is a study of a chromatic scale in descent. The same student wanted to know about II-V-I chord resolutions. So I constructed a series that was practical for II-V-I but at the same time was strictly chromatic, revealing the various different substitutions all at once. So a lot of the material came from this context. One thing from another was sparking itself from many angles simultaneously.