Pat Metheny Unity Group at the Hanover Theatre

Timothy J. O'Keefe By

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Pat Metheny Unity Group
Hanover Theatre
Worcester, MA
November 16, 2014

"As far as explaining [my music] to other people, I don't really worry too much about that," Pat Metheny reflected, perhaps befittingly for an artist who constantly seems to churn out new sounds while nestling himself at the forefront of jazz's musical directions. "I somehow have always felt comfortable knowing that the music speaks for itself, and it may be that the largest part of the audience who will get the most out of [the music] is likely not even on the planet yet." Many who have heard the varied and creative music associated with Metheny's forward-looking playing may readily agree.

The performance at Worcester's Hanover Theatre opened with a pinkish tinged spotlight embracing the lone guitarist. Eerie swells of sounds emitted forth from the stage, as Metheny intermittently strummed, plucked, and snapped at the 42 strings of a custom-made Pikasso guitar. From offstage, scant bass notes rumbled, and the band quickly took their positions to perform "Come and See."

In essence, the performance was comprised of two parts, with no formal set break. The first half focused on the Unity Band's music, while the second part, which added band member Giulio Carmassi on keys, explored the more electronic-oriented music of Unity Group.

"The word Unity really fits with what I am shooting for—and not just with this band—in music in general," Metheny said. "I like the idea of making connections, finding inclusion and forming a way of thinking about not just the way the people making the music may be connected to each other, but also the way the music that I hope to present has connections with all of the other music I love."

Further elaborating, the bandleader stated: "Chris Potter, Ben Williams, and Antonio Sanchez and this whole trajectory that we have shared has been kind of an ideal experience for me. We have now played literally hundreds of sets of music together all over the planet over the past couple of years and everyone has given everything they had for every second of it. I have never had a core band with that kind of consistent musical maturity and seriousness, also mixed with that much fun. It has been such a joy on every level for me."

On "Roofdogs," Williams' bass riffing bass anchored the music beneath Metheny's horn-like, almost squeaky tone. Metheny and saxophonist Potter exchanged flurries of notes, high in the region of their respective instruments. Potter adeptly bent and shredded notes, steering the music as the band united for the tune's ending theme.

"I feel really enriched by having been around Chris so much over these past few years," Metheny said. "He is simply one of the best musicians I have ever known, and the level of excellence he represents happens on so many different levels. I feel really flattered that he took this time away from all of his other many projects and opportunities to focus on this music, and the commitment that he brought to the music was something very special. I can't say enough about how much I admire him."

The clean sounds and slow, almost waltz-like tempo of "The Bat," a ballad written for saxophonist Dewey Redman, provided a change of pace that was soon starkly contrasted by the fast, hurried sounds of "Police People"—a selection that showcased Sanchez's drumming.

"I feel the same way about Antonio as I do about Chris," Metheny said. "It is an amazing experience to be on the bandstand with him. He is a real original, too. It is very hard to place the thing that he does on the drumming spectrum. He has really created something unique and he kind of did it the hard way by really understanding a whole bunch of diverse aspects of what a drummer might offer a band in this general environment and distilling a vocabulary on the set that is somehow fundamentally different. In addition to all that, he has the best internal clock of any musician I have ever heard and his sense of overall orchestration within not just the kit, but the way the drums fit into the whole musical panorama is something that is very rare."

Numerous times throughout the night, the band broke down into a guitar, bass, and drum trio—a format Metheny has employed throughout his career—and one that allows the musicians to express and explore musical ideas.

"Playing trio has been a huge part of my life along the way, right from the beginning," Metheny explained. "The basic thing that I laid out on Bright Size Life (ECM, 1976) in terms of sound and conception has really been the fundamental platform that everything that followed has been built upon, whether with the trios or with my regular groups. Those early musical arguments still seem worthwhile and viable to me now and I think that the conception of things being built on a very stripped down model has benefited both the more sparse settings as well as the more elaborate kinds of things that I have done with my larger bands and projects. But each trio zone has also had some real distinctions too. Writing for Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins was really different than writing for Dave Holland and Roy Haynes. Bill Stewart and Larry Grenadier represent different playing opportunities from what might occur with Christian McBride and Antonio. I really try to gather the forces at hand to the best of my ability and come up with an environment that is fun and challenging for everyone, with an emphasis on the fun part."

The second half of the night's performance saw Metheny partake in a duet with each band member. The first duet, "Bright Size Life," saw Metheny joined by Williams. "It was kind of a challenge to find the right bassist for this band, knowing the strong personalities that would be present," Metheny explained. "I had heard Ben while he was at Juilliard, and Christian McBride had recommended him to me for some gigs. I was impressed the first time I heard him, and he just keeps growing and getting better and better. It has been really exciting to witness this nightly over the past few years. He has the ability to make the music new every set, even after 140 or 150 concerts, and retains a kind of warmth and presence both musically and personally that is a joy to be around."

Potter joined Metheny for an interpretation of "Cherokee," Carmassi stood in for "Dream of the Return," and Sanchez's drums accompanied the guitarist on "(Go) Get It."

"Playing duets with people is something I love doing, and I have had many incredible experiences playing in that setting," Metheny said. "I feel so lucky to have had fantastic duet experiences with my close friend Charlie Haden, with Jim Hall and with many others. It has been really fun to explore that aspect of things with this group of guys. Each guy in the band has some very special strengths that really come out in a duet setting."

Those same strengths, and a certain musical versatility, were heard on the eclectic sounds of "Kin," "Rise Up," "Born," "Geneaology," and "On Day One," many of which contained the assorted time signatures, timbres, and electronic experimentation akin to Metheny's distinctive music.

"As far as sound goes, I always try to let the music at hand decide what direction I go in in terms of orchestration," Metheny said. "I am pretty happy to play in a really dense way, or a really sparse way, or really loud or really soft, or all over the dynamic range, really inside the chords or outside the chords...it kind of doesn't matter too much for me—it is whatever seems to sound best for what is happening at that particular moment."

"That includes the fairly arbitrary distinctions between classes of instruments. I really enjoy and have a closeness with playing totally acoustic instruments, amplified electric instruments, computer-based electronic instruments or even now robotic instruments and see no reason why any of those potentials should be mutually exclusive. I am primarily interested in creativity and whatever form seems to emerge out of an idea, I always try to follow it honestly and do my best to get a good result that answers to whatever the conception of the music or musical setting seems to want."

Good thing Metheny doesn't worry about explaining his music to others. It's complex nature defies simple categorization or description. However, on one night in Worcester, these indescribable sounds held the audience enthralled.

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