Valley Public Radio - Live Audio

Pat Metheny Keeps Moving Forward

Mar 13, 2014

Jazz guitarist and composer Pat Metheny has won 20 Grammys and released dozens of albums, but he keeps experimenting with his music. In 2010, he toured and recorded an album with “The Orchestrion,” a wall of instruments.

Now, the 59-year-old Kansas City, Mo., native has released “Kin” with his latest band The Unity Group, which incorporates horns and vocals in his music.

Metheny discusses his new work Here & Now’s Robin Young.


Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit



Recently, our old friend, guitarist Pat Metheny, waited patiently in the Spotland studios in Nashville. Well, he waited. But one gets the feeling Pat Metheny is never patient, always looking for the next sound - from the soaring cinematic songs of the Pat Metheny Group in the '70s to the early 2000s...


YOUNG: 2010's "Orchestrion" project, a wall of instruments he commissioned, built and played.


YOUNG: And then there's everything in between: solo work, trios and clapping.


YOUNG: Ooh. I like that changeup.




YOUNG: How are you?

METHENY: I'm good. How are you doing?


YOUNG: Now Pat Metheny is out with "Kin," a follow-up to 2012's "Unity Band" CD. It included saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Ben Williams. "Kin" adds Giulio Carmassi to form the new Unity Group.


YOUNG: So how many records have you made?

METHENY: God, I should know that.

YOUNG: It could be a hundred.

METHENY: It's a bunch.

YOUNG: A lot of CDs, 20 Grammys, DownBeat guitarist of the year last year. You are written about now as one of the few jazz artists who can sit back and say, what should I do today? You know, it could be anything, and you chose this. Why expand with Unity Group?

METHENY: In, I guess it was 2012, you know, I kind of was looking back over all the records that I'd made and kind of realized that there was kind of a gaping hole in all of it, in that, you know, I had done plenty of records with saxophone players, playing more in a - I guess we could say a traditional sort of rhythm section plus a horn player kind of environment - but I really only had one record like that of my own, which was "80/81" with Mike Brecker and Dewey Redman. And it just seemed - it was really kind of an oversight.

I mean, so much of my time and energy has been spent, you know, kind of putting together sort of alternatives to that kind of setting, not because I have anything against that, but it just kind of seemed like that was part of the job description for me, was to, you know, come up with different ways of thinking about having a band.

And, you know, also maybe I've been waiting 30 years for Chris Potter to come along because he's certainly the saxophone player that inspired me the same way that Brecker and Dewey did back then, to want to write a whole bunch of music for him. I heard him about six or seven years ago playing in Dave Holland's band, and it was that kind of thing where I just walked out of the club where I heard him thinking, man, I want to write some music for that guy.


YOUNG: So we're hearing a little of the music you wrote off your 2012 CD with Chris Potter and the Unity Band.

METHENY: And I immediately thought, OK, if we're going to do another round, let's do a something a little different. So, you know, hence the switch of the name from band to group and, you know, really the main difference is that I kind of been feeling the pull to write a more dense kind of harmonic.

You know, you use the word soaring or cinematic. That kind of thing, I hadn't done that for a while, and the main difference is the way of writing. I mean, it's, you know, the pieces are very long. They're very much about exposition. And I've been saying all along, the first record was kind of like a black and white documentary. This one is kind of like the Steven Spielberg 3-D, IMAX version of it.


YOUNG: How would you describe where you are now?

METHENY: Well, you know, when I first started making records even, I'd only been playing the guitar for, you know, four, five, six years at that point and, you know, now, it's like pretty close to 50 years. And, you know, I would say that the main thing is my batting average of being able to actually manifest into a sound that other people can hear is closer to what I am actually hearing in my head than it used to be. There used to be this incredible frustration of, like, you know, kind of like, you know, just feeling like I wasn't quite able to illuminate the ideas in a way that I can now. So that's...

YOUNG: Wait, wait, wait. I have to stop you for a second. Really? Even, you know, some of the early pieces that seem - they're a story. Every word seemed to be in the right place. So what was missing for you?

METHENY: You know, even now, if - I feel like I'm actually at about, maybe, 25 percent in terms of being able to get out what I can really hear, and maybe then I was 10 percent. You know, I think this is true for a lot of musicians, as well. You know, we all have a certain kind of internal fluency. The challenging part is to sort of be able to extract that. Music is really hard. This is something that doesn't get talked about that much. There is a lot of satisfaction for me of having work hard at it and feeling like I do, get closer to it now. But it's a long, long way away from me, where I' like to be.


YOUNG: Again, new music from Pat Metheny's Unity Group. But Pat, what do you say to long-time fans who've been wondering: What about the Pat Metheny Group?

METHENY: You know, I think there are musicians who go through their life sort of like, you know, like a snake that sheds its skin every year, and then they become a different person and a different artist. And they don't wear the same clothes, and, you know, they're completely different every couple of years. Mostly, I feel like, OK. This is all one big, long thing. It's like a novel that's got lots and lots of different chapters. But I do tend to kind of go where the heat is, somehow, like where there's a certain urgency or a certain I can't to sleep at night. And at the moment, this band has been - you know, I've kind of used the term, and I don't throw it around, you know, in a casual way. It was kind of life-changing to have this band, to be standing there next to Chris Potter playing at that level night after night after night.

So, you know, that's kind of what's happening right now. But no, there's no doors closed on doing this, that or the other thing. You know, I'm pretty stubborn about just doing whatever I feel like, well, that's what I should be doing right now. So...

YOUNG: Really?



METHENY: You know, there's also no consensus. There's even whole arguments among people constantly about, oh, no, it's only the Ornette stuff, or, no, it's only the trio stuff, or, no, it's only the group stuff, or, no, it's only - you know, now, it's like, oh, man, he hasn't done anything good since "Orchestrion," you know? I mean, it's like, you know, there's going to be that too. So really, I don't try to even guess what people think about anything. I just try to do the best at whatever I'm doing at that time. And, you know, my view of it is - that it's all one thing. I just try to play good notes.

YOUNG: Pat Metheny, his latest album with the Pat Metheny Unity Group is "Kin." Thank you so much.

METHENY: Great to talk to you, Robin.

YOUNG: And Pat Metheny and the Unity Group are in Columbus, Ohio, tonight. For more on the tour and the CD, go to From NPR and WBUR Boston, I'm Robin Young.


I'm Jeremy Hobson. This is HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.