Improvisation is paramount in Metheny's world. Though he tightly constructs his compositions, Metheny also inserts holes for his bandmates to fill. It is here where the Unity Band -- his current ensemble -- shines, as evidenced on their latest release, Kin.
Already out on the road supporting the album, Metheny wasn't available for a traditional phone interview, but instead offer thoughtful and well thought out answers to Up on the Sun's emailed questions. Always forthcoming, Metheny discusses his band and how it has musically expanded the past few years, his musical vision, and his constant desire to push the envelope.
Your new album is called Kin. Is this title in relation to the way you and the Unity Band relate on stage or in the studio -- that is, with that telepathic ability usually associated with kinship?
Kin is a word that implies connection or family or lineage. To me, like the word unity, it really fits with what I am shooting for -- and not just with this band, in music in general. 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.
Beyond that, this may be the first band I have ever had that really can address everything from my trio stuff, to stuff from Song X, all of my regular band stuff, the more straight ahead kinds of things; all of it can coexist under one roof. And the "unpronounceable" symbol that follows the word, (←→), was something that just sort of popped out that I thought did a good job of indicating that our "kin" is not always behind us chronologically in an ancestral sense -- we are also going to be the ancestors for many generations to come. And also musically. So this is a message to those future listeners as well.
Five years ago you did the first of two solo albums. Then in June 2012 you went back to a band set up. What was the thinking in taking a solo route, and what was it that made you decide to return to performing with a complete band?
All the records kind of blur together to me -- it all feels like one big thing to me, like a book with different chapters that are moving the plot along in different ways but always about telling a story from a singular point of view.
Playing solo was not something I did often. I was often asked about doing solo concerts and I decided that if I ever were to do one, I wanted to do something really different -- hence the Orchestrion project.
I have had a lot of different bands and groups over the years -- and they all kind of continue; nothing ever feels obsolete to me. It is more a process of constant expansion for me. Each platform seems viable.
For this band, you again have a saxophone out front, something that hasn't appeared since '80/'81. The combination of horn and guitar is so fluid on both albums, it's really great to get lost in. Naturally, there are so many musical options and combinations, but what led you back in this direction?
I think I had to wait 30 years for Chris Potter to show up! I have been following Chris since he first came on the scene playing with Red Rodney all those years ago. I was a fan right away and have enjoyed his playing all along. But I remember hearing him about halfway through his stay with Dave Holland and walking out of the performance feeling like he had transcended to a different level. To me, he is one of the most brilliant improvising musicians I have ever been around. Having him in the band inspires me the same way that it did when I wrote for Mike Brecker and Dewey Redman all those years ago.