Metheny’s new band anything but conventional

NEW YORK (AP) - The word conventional simply doesn’t exist in Pat Metheny’s musical lexicon. The guitarist has never been complacent, choosing to follow an unpredictable path.

The 58-year-old Metheny is touring with his new band featuring saxophonist Chris Potter, performing tunes from his latest album “Unity Band.” It marks only the second time Metheny has recorded as a leader in a band featuring a tenor saxophonist and the first since 1980, when he teamed with Dewey Redman and Michael Brecker.

“The main reason for that is that I’ve really devoted so much of my energy and attention to trying to come up with alternative ways of thinking about how to present music,” Metheny said in a recent interview. “Honestly, it’s a little bizarre that I think back on 40-some records and there’s really only two that are the classic horn and rhythm section.”

Metheny has worked with saxophonists on side projects _ mostly notably his “Song X” duet with Ornette Coleman and a series of recordings under Brecker’s name before the saxophonist’s death in 2007. That same year he played together for the first time with Potter on the debut recording by drummer Antonio Sanchez.

“With Chris I had this instant thing,” Metheny said. “It’s a little bit like talking and people are finishing sentences, and it just unfolds in this very organic, natural way.”

The 41-year-old Potter says he jumped at the chance to join Metheny’s band “because I’ve been listening to his music since I was a kid.”

Pat’s just really good at putting things together and using people’s strengths,” Potter said. “It’s very open-ended and the energy level is very high from start to finish.”

Sanchez, the Pat Metheny Group’s longtime drummer, was an obvious choice for the Unity Band. Metheny rounded out the quartet with up-and coming bassist Ben Williams, the winner of the 2009 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Competition.

But while the Unity Band features a traditional jazz quartet format, Metheny chafes at doing anything that might be considered conventional. He rejects the neo-traditional movement championed by Wynton Marsalis and other “young lions” in the 1980s.

“When I hear talented young musicians playing in a totally straight-up, conventional way _ and this sort of neo-conservative thing _ I remain puzzled by it. It makes me want to just go listen to the original recordings of what they’re trying to do,” Metheny said, adding: “Our job description is in fact to look for personal ways of expressing things that are true and have current value and are hopefully unique. Even if I tried to do a straight-up quartet record, I’d still have to come up with something.”

On “Unity Band,” Metheny comes up with unusual instrumental combinations that add a rich palette of colors to the nine original tunes he wrote for the album. On the opener “New Year,” he plays a lyrical solo on acoustic nylon string guitar before Potter comes in on tenor sax. The burning “Roofdogs” pairs his horn-like Roland synth guitar with soprano sax. And “Come and See” offers the unusual combination of his 42-string Picasso guitar and Potter’s bass clarinet.

“Signals (Orchestrion Sketch)” features a condensed version of the Orchestrion, a modern-day version of the one-man band he introduced on a 2010 solo album. Metheny uses his guitar and foot pedals to control about 20 objects, from bottles to small mallet percussion, to create what he calls “a whole different sonic palette than just what I would do with my guitar, and it’s acoustic.”

This month, 3-D film “The Orchestrion Project” will be screened at theaters across the country. The film, also available on DVD and Blu Ray, features Metheny performing his “Orchestrion Suite” from his solo record and other tunes from his songbook with the full-scale version of his one-man mini-orchestra.

Next year, he plans to reassemble the Pat Metheny Group for a recording session. The electrified small ensemble _ featuring co-composer and keyboardist Lyle Mays _ is the only band to win Grammys for seven consecutive albums, but it’s been on hiatus since the 2005 release of “The Way Up” with its sweeping 68-minute composition.

Metheny says the Unity Band likely won’t be a one-shot project. Its name has a literal meaning. Growing up in Lee’s Summit, Mo., he and members of his family played outdoor summer concerts with a band of the same name sponsored by the Unity Church whose world headquarters were nearby.

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