Jazz guitar legend Pat Metheny has been making his singularly soulful jazz for more than four decades now. Both on his own classic albums with The Pat Metheny Band and in collaborations with other legends (few as impactful to this day as Joni Mitchell’s Shadow & Light tour superband, with Pat on guitar, Jaco Pastorius on bass, Lyle Mays on keys, Don Alias on drums and Wayne Shorter on sax – can it get better?).
Now he’s got a new record, From This Place, which comes out at the end of February, and features a new superband of greatness, including the amazing Meshell Ndegeocello on vocals,. long-time drummer, Antonio Sanchez, Malaysian/Australian bassist Linda May Han Oh, and British pianist Gwilym Simcock as well as the Hollywood Studio Symphony conducted by Joel McNeely. Gregoire Maret (harmonica), and Luis Conte (percussion) are special guests.
When asked to name one album that changed his life forever, he chose Four & More, by Miles Davis, which he discusses in the following. After which he expounds on his own latest album, sure to impact a multitude of lives, From This Place.
Four & More — Recorded Live In Concert (1964)
Featuring: Miles Davis (trumpet), George Coleman (tenor saxophone), Herbie Hancock (piano), Ron Carter (double Bass), and Tony Williams (drums)
PAT METHENY: My choice is Four & More —by Miles. It’s a record which has had an impact on my life on many levels.
For one thing, it was my first record of any kind in this general area of music. My older brother Mike brought it home one day and when I listened to it, it was like someone hitting me over the head with a baseball bat. I always hear that this kind of music is something you are supposed to have to develop some listening skills to know how to appreciate. For me, it took all of five seconds. As an 11-year-old kid, it hit me the same way the Beatles did around the same time and for many of the same reasons. It sounded like what the world felt like to me at that time. It sounded modern and of the time, but also mysterious and eternal somehow.
“As much as it was hearing Miles and everything that he brought to every note, it was the sound of Tony Williams’ ride cymbal that really did it for me. The urgency and unpredictability of it. The feel of it. The sound of it.
“I still listen to this record often and I have for more than 40 years now. Every time I hear it, I still hear different things and it hits me in entirely new ways. Early on, as I would listen to it, I didn’t exactly understand the details of the changes they were improvising on that they were playing on the way I do now, but it didn’t matter. As time went on I began to know all the particulars of what was going on in terms of the way they were dealing with the form itself — the harmonies and the infinite sensibilities that Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter were contributing to make it all have the amazing color and distinct quality that made the core of that band the greatest rhythm section of all time.
“I’ve always felt that the greatest music can be viewed under the scrutiny of a musical electron microscope or from the telescopic distance of a casual music listener and what makes it great will withstand and transcend all perspectives. Four & More has that quality for me.”
Now, here’s Pat on his own new album, From This Place, which comes out on February 21, 2020.
PAT METHENY: From This Place is one of the records I have been waiting to make my whole life. It is a kind of musical culmination, reflecting a wide range of expressions that have interested me over the years, scaled across a large canvas, presented in a way that offers the kind of opportunities for communication that can only be earned with a group of musicians who have spent hundreds of nights together on the bandstand.
Add to that the challenge of all new music and the spontaneous response it generated, channel it all through the prism of large scale orchestration and unexpectedly, From This Place becomes something that advances many of my central aspirations as a musician.
Over the several years that preceded this project, I took the core quartet at the heart of this recording around the world, presenting an evening of music focused entirely on earlier compositions. Until then, virtually every tour I had ever done was centered around the new music of whatever record was current at that time, with a few pieces from previous eras sprinkled in along the way.
By that time, I was several hundred compositions in and had never really stopped to take a look back. The idea of gathering together a unique group of extremely talented players, each with their own relationship to my general area of work was appealing to me, particularly the idea of identifying and presenting the tunes that could be malleable enough in their hands to re-visit as a launching pad for our collective skills and interests as improvisers.
With my longtime collaborator on drums, the brilliant Antonio Sanchez, the exciting new pianist Gwilym Simcock joined by Linda May Han Oh, one of the most important new musicians on the New York scene in recent years, I had a formidable group of musicians. They were all prepared in every way to address that older music in ways that I knew would be exciting and interesting.
What was supposed to be a relatively short tour kept getting extended by popular demand, eventually turning into several years worth of performances across the globe – while becoming one of the most fun and satisfying groups I have ever had on the bandstand with me.
Parallel to and in the midst of all of this, I also made several extensive duet tours with one of my major heroes in life, bassist Ron Carter. In addition to the thrill of being on the bandstand with Mr. Carter night after night, the rigors of touring also gave us plenty of travel time together. During those many hours spent in cars and planes around the world, I was able to ask Ron all the dozens of questions that I, as one of his biggest fans, ever wanted to ask him.
Near the top of my list was this one; during his later years in the Miles Davis Quintet, arguably the most influential band of the last half of the 20th century, while making classic records like Nefertiti, E.S.P. and so many others, why did their live concerts of that era continue mostly to be the standards that formed most of the sets the band had been playing live in previous years? (All Blues, Joshua, Autumn Leaves, etc.)
Why those tunes, rather than the new music they were recording?
Mr. Carter explained to me that Miles had a philosophy that he applied to that particular line-up. He wanted that band to develop a code through playing that familiar music night after night together that could then later be applied to the creation of a new way of playing together in the studio. A common language that would combine the familiarity that the players had with each other through playing those older tunes with the freshness of what new compositions might offer in the studio, creating the best of both worlds.
A light bulb went off over my head.
I had been wanting to record this new band but had made so many guitar/piano/bass/drums quartet records along the way that I found myself searching for a setting to look at what I might do with this group that could be different.
So, why not write a bunch of new music to be presented fresh for the first time in the studio to this band I knew so well? No rehearsals. Let’s just go in with a pile of music I would compose just for this crew – an entirely different book from what we had been playing live – and see what happens. The Miles quintet approach.
With that goal in mind, over a relatively short period, I wrote 16 new pieces, set a date for recording, and made sure we had enough studio time to dive into whatever this material might offer. Shortly before the sessions, there were a few pieces that I understood could benefit by gathering some arranging input from Gwilym and Linda to take advantage of their particular gifts within the context of what I imagined those pieces might be suggesting. And I knew from experience that whatever I gave Antonio would be reinvented on the spot by way of his unsurpassed musicality. (In addition to being one of the greatest drummers of his generation, he also has the unique ability to make things happen in a recording studio that puts him in the elite group of players who can genuinely see the studio itself as an extension of their instrument.)
As we launched into the first day of recording, I had another light bulb moment.
As we were playing, I started hearing things in my head that were not there on the page – yet.
I understood quickly that these pieces were demanding orchestration, expansion, and color. Somehow while composing, I had the sense that the nature of what I was working on for these upcoming sessions contained a broader view of something, but I wasn’t able to identify it until we actually started recording.
Right away, I started altering the music to allow for that, to make room for this other layer I was imagining, encouraging everyone to leave spaces for other yet undefined details to emerge. What began as a distant vision suddenly blossomed into a central aspect of what makes this record unlike any other that I have done.
As much as folks might describe the sonic language of the avant-garde movement of the Sixties as falling into an identifiable generic sound, I have always regarded the general expansion of creativity of that era in a more ecumenical way.
The stylistic changes that occurred then in our community included not only the obvious examples of individual players utilizing extended techniques on their instruments in new ways, or new types of ensembles, but also the wildly new approaches that technology, particular recording technology, offered.
Multi-track recording allowed for entirely new kinds of music to be made.
It is unlikely that the recordings of the CTI label of that time would likely never be thought of as “avant-garde” by garden variety jazz critics of that (or probably any other) era. But from my seat as a young fan, the idea of an excellent and experienced arranger like Don Sebesky taking the improvised material of great musicians like Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter and weaving their lines and voicings into subsequent orchestration was not only a new kind of arranging; it resulted in a different kind of sound and music.
It was a way of presenting music that represented the impulses of the players and the improvisers at hand through orchestration in an entirely new way. I loved those records.
This will not be the first recording of mine where that equation – record first, orchestrate later – has come up. But it is by far the most extensive one, and I would offer the most organic. From the first notes we recorded, this was the destination I had in mind.
To assist in the next stage, I brought in two of my favorite musicians and two of the most distinguished and advanced arrangers on the scene today; the magnificent Alan Broadbent and the endlessly inventive Gil Goldstein. Having worked with both of them before, I knew them both to be exactly the right fit for what this music was asking for.
I split up the tracks between the two of them based on what material I thought they would each be most inspired by and gave each of them a few directions as to when what and where I was hearing things. In short order, they both produced brilliant charts that enhanced and colored what I had composed while referencing the performances themselves on the tracks they were assigned. (Saving at least one tune and parts of a few others for myself too.) It was thrilling to get their takes on this music and to marvel at the angles and dimensions they both were able to uncover.
Somehow a reference to film scoring and American movie music in general was sitting there just under the surface all along the way. While it is certainly possible to go to eastern Europe to record orchestral music (as is often the case these days for budgetary reasons), I felt that the essence of this music was so American in nature that if it were in any way possible, it needed to be done here in the States – and in Los Angeles in particular. There is a certain quality of rhythmic intensity as well as general excellence produced by the best film scoring studio musicians out there that I have never heard anywhere else.
Thanks to the efforts of the excellent conductor Joel McNeely and his associates, a scenario where we were able to not only get the best players in LA to perform under Joel’s exemplary leadership but also to record it all in one of the best sound stages unfolded. We were able to achieve precisely the sound that I was hoping we might be able to get to.
With the orchestral parts recorded, it was clear to me that a few key guests were required to finish. Luis Conte is renowned as the best studio percussionist in the world by artists across the stylistic spectrum for a reason – everything he does fits in a way that you can’t imagine how the track might have sounded without him. Gregoire Maret had been a part of one of my earlier bands early in his career and has gone on to become the most sought after harmonica player in music today. They both made fantastic contributions.
On November 8, 2016, our country shamefully revealed a side of itself to the world that had mostly been hidden from view in its recent history. I wrote the piece From This Place in the early morning hours the next day as the results of the election became sadly evident.
There was only one musician who I could imagine singing it, and that was Meshell Ndegeocello, one of the great artists of our time. With words by her partner Alison Riley, they captured exactly the feeling of that tragic moment while reaffirming the hope of better days ahead.
That said, as I approach 50 years of recording and performing, while looking back on all the music I have been involved in, I am hard-pressed to immediately recall in retrospect the political climate of the time that most of it was made in. And if I can, the memories of those particulars seem almost inconsequential to the music itself.
The currency that I have been given the privilege to trade in over these years put its primary value on the timeless and transcendent nature of what makes music music.
Music continually reveals itself to be ultimately and somewhat oddly impervious to the ups and downs of the transient details that may even have played a part in its birth. Music retains its nature and spirit even as the culture that forms it fades away, much like the dirt that creates the pressure around a diamond is long forgotten as the diamond shines on.
I hope this record might stand as a testament to my ongoing aspiration to honor those values.
— Pat Metheny