Destructive streaming services are not going to stop him. Nor are people smearing their shoddy videos across YouTube like so much audio-visual graffiti. No, Pat Metheny remains committed to the album as a work of art. When the guitarist, who has popularised sonic adventuring like few others, returns to these shores in March, he will have just released what he considers his most ambitious record ever.
At 65 Metheny is still attached to the old artistic and business model: compose; record; tour. But he also knows that any new album now fights for oxygen in a cluttered market. “There’s going to be 900 other things of you from your entire life as a musician – things that you didn’t even know existed – on YouTube and everything else,” he says, “not to mention people sticking up their phone at a gig and so forth. And all of those things are kind of blanketing each other. Having said all that, I’m still sort of playing pretend that it does matter. I’m still making records.”
The forthcoming album, From This Place, features the band he will bring here, with Australian bassist Linda May Han Oh, British pianist Gwilym Simcock and Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez. This quartet has played over 400 concerts across the last three years, largely revisiting Metheny’s early repertoire for the first time, something he’s likely to do again in Australia.
The New York jazz scene was once quite a closed shop to non-locals, let alone non-Americans, and of the Australians who have made a dent, the Perth-born Oh has integrated herself as fully as anyone. “She’s such a great musician, and I just love her,” enthuses Metheny. “She is the real thing, and part of the reason that I really insisted that we come down and play for y’all with this particular combination of musicians. It’s a very special group, and she’s a big part of why it’s so special.”
When assembling this band, Sanchez was a given, having been Metheny’s key collaborator for two decades. London-based Simcock was the next addition, before Metheny decided he would try as many bassists as necessary to find the right person. “There are a lot of great bass players around New York,” he says, “and Linda came in, and she got the gig in like four bars. Then, when we had our first rehearsal together, I looked around at those guys, and that was the first moment I realised I was the only American!”
Like Miles Davis, Metheny has delighted placing his distinctive approach in diverse contexts, and in this regard he doesn’t consider the jazz community has generally maintained the level of questing creativity that used to exist. “But I never have felt like novelty was a valuable destination in itself,” he says. “I always thought that things have to evolve organically out of sound and of music, and out of the necessity that the musical impulse is demanding. At the same time, I feel an obligation to keep asking questions.”
He sees jazz players as not adhering to a style, so much as a way of being a musician. “We could all go play with Beyonce tomorrow and it would be great,” he says, “and we could play with the New York Philharmonic the next day playing all written music. We could play with a lot of [chord] changes or free, and everybody can make the rhythmic thing happen that gives music a good feel. The demands of what we ask of each other in that community is sort of this ‘uber’ musician thing, where you’re kind of like looking at music from the biggest, broadest-possible place.”
Metheny regrets that this breadth of activity is reduced to the term “jazz”, which means such different things to different people. “When I think of the community of musicians that I’ve been so lucky to hang with, I’m just in awe of the musicianship there,” he says. “If I think about [pianist] Keith Jarrett, somebody like that comes along every 200 years, and just to throw that in the j-word category – man, it’s so much more than that!”
Pat Metheny: Riverside Theatre, Perth, March 4; Palais Theatre, Melbourne, March 6; State Theatre, Sydney, March 7.