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Pat Metheny: "I don't see the end of anything, only beginnings and expansions"

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Since releasing the last Pat Metheny Group album, 2005's The Way Up, guitarist Pat Metheny has been quite busy exploring quite a few different paths, including his Orchestrion Project, two albums with pianist Brad Mehldau, a solo disc, a trio record, an album of John Zorn's Masada material, 2012's Unity Band, and his latest album with the Pat Metheny Unity Group. While that album, Kin (←→), has elements of previous PMG albums, the disc also shows the guitarist pushing in new directions.

See also: The ten best jazz guitarists of all time

In advance of his show at the Lincoln Center in Fort Collins on Thursday, March 6, and his appearance at the Paramount Theatre on Friday, March 7, we recently spoke with Metheny about his latest effort, Kin (←→), with the Pat Metheny Unity Group, which includes saxophonist Chris Potter, drummer Antonio Sanchez, bassist Ben Williams and the newest member, multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi.

Westword: Do you see the Unity Group as something of an organic evolution of the Pat Metheny Group, or something quite different?

Pat Metheny: To me, all the music I have made is all one continuous thing that has evolved in a way that is very personal. I don't make a distinction between this period or that period, this band or that band. And I don't see the end of anything, only beginnings and expansions. Each of the playing environments I have set up over the years are all different versions of my sense of what music can be, what a band can be. When I have a band and I have hired certain musicians to be in it, it is because I feel like they are the best guys to help me realize a certain sound that I have an almost primal need to get out there at that particular time. And for the most part I feel like each of those areas of interest are still worthwhile.

I don't feel like anything I have ever started has ever ended, everything is ongoing. I could happily play all the music from Bright Size Life right now. It still seems viable -- the arguments there still seem valid and worth thinking about. And I could say that about just about everything else going forward. I know there are musicians who go through life kind of like a snake shedding its skin, moving on the next thing and then the next. It isn't like that for me -- it is more a process of addition onto a preexisting structure, like adding rooms and wings and additions onto a house. Everything is connected to me.

That said, I do tend to want to go where the fire is, where there is the most intensity and urgency. I have always had very strong instincts about what that is at a particular moment in time that I have followed faithfully. I just try to do my own thing and do my best at whatever I am working on during a given period.

The addition of multi-instrumentalist Giulio Carmassi really seemed to open up the scope of what the group was capable of, especially texturally. Would you agree?

I would say that the most significant difference between the conception of this new project to the one before was my decision to do so much electronics and Orchestrionic stuff. I usually have not done that in these types of settings. And the conception of the writing is also totally different. The new record is all about long forms with lots of written material sitting right next the kinds of improvisational opportunities that also have certain compositional requirements built into them -- very different than the more straight-ahead blowing on the form type settings that were on the first Unity Band record.

Regarding Giulio, to do what I wanted to do I knew I wanted to expand the palette by adding another musician. However I didn't want to alter the incredible dynamic of the core quartet. What I really needed was a good musician who could play a lot of parts, kind of like a session musician. I needed someone to kind of fill out the sound of the band as kind of a utility musician, I didn't really need another soloist or creative force, especially with Chris Potter standing right there, but I did need someone who understands the language that we are dealing in and can contribute in a textural way and give me another voice to write for. He is doing fine in that role for this band.

With Kin (←→), did you write with the players in mind?

Absolutely. The band had just finished playing more than 100 concerts around the world and I had everyone's sound in my head and by that time I had a very deep sense of what each guy was particularly good at. At the same time, the idea was to do something pretty different. I think that is what makes this all so exciting for all of us.

You've said that writing music for Kin (←→) was one of the biggest challenges you have ever undertaken but hearing the final result was one of the most satisfying feeling you've ever had as a musician. Can you expand on that?

I think I had a real destination in mind when I started and that can sometimes be a daunting thing. You want to be able to live up to your own expectations, and in this case, I had described to the guys in the band what I intended to do and how I imagined the part two of this unfolding. The satisfaction comes from having not just hit that mark, but actually the sense that what is there represents something that goes beyond anything else too.

You've released an album nearly every year (sometimes a few albums in year) since Bright Size Life. How has your approach to composing evolved?

When I first started writing, it was a real response to the realization that there was a way I wanted to be able to improvise that I was increasingly having a hard time finding vehicles to take me to. When I discovered that by writing tunes for specific people I could really develop context for improvisation as well as advance the sort of narrative way of thinking that I have always gone for, it seemed natural to devote more and more time and energy to that aspect of things. I think that is pretty well represented over all the years with all the different kinds of forms and settings and bands that I have wound up writing for.

Congratulations on your recent Goya Award for best soundtrack for Living is Easy With Eyes Closed. You've scored other films as well. When composing songs, do ideas ever come to you in a visual or cinematic way?

I really enjoy the process of collaboration. When working on a film, you are of course collaborating with the director and the other people involved in the film, but mostly you are collaborating with the film itself. I just always try to find what "it" wants -- and maybe more importantly, what it doesn't want. I basically consider myself kind of "retired" from doing film scores. I realized at a certain point that my time was best spent writing music, doing tours and making records. This one came up suddenly, and when I saw it, I knew instinctively what to do right away and did it all very quickly, basically in about a week from start to finish. It is kind of amazing to me that it has gotten all this attention!

While Steve Rodby was a long-time bassist with the Pat Metheny Group, you've also worked with him a number times where he acted as the producer. What does he bring to the table as a producer, particularly with Kin (←→)?

Steve is the best producer I know, the best producer I have ever seen. Between all of his own personal experience in the studios of Chicago as a player and now all the dozens of projects we have worked on together, there is a kind of direct shorthand that I can't imagine ever having with anyone else. He is amazing. As also, he is one of the best bass players around. I look forward to our next chapter in that regard as well.

Over the last decade or so, you've traveled a few different paths, including Orchestrion Project, the two albums with Brad Mehldau, a solo disc, a trio record and the Unity Band, the Zorn album and now Kin (←→). Is there still musical terrain you'd like to explore?

Music feels infinite to me. I have so many ideas, so many projects, so many kinds of things that I hope to do. The hard part for me is settling on exactly which thing to do next. The best part of it all for me is that I feel like I am just starting to actually be able to get to the kinds of things that I had always hoped to be able to get to on a much more consistent basis and there is a real sense of progress for me in it all that is gratifying. But I still feel like I am just beginning.

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