Kin is the inspiration behind the 2014 re-launch of PatMethenyMusic.com. The inspiration of the original launch in 2005 was The Way Up. For many years, I wondered if Pat would ever aspire to the larger canvas of the “Group” setting again. In May 2012, I saw the following question on the Q&A site Quora.com (registration required):
This was my chance to go on record with my theory on this particular topic:
While I consider myself the world’s biggest Pat Metheny fanatic, my answer is only pure speculation…
The Pat Metheny Group recording released in 2005 was The Way Up:
I personally consider this recording to be the Apotheosis of Pat Metheny’s recording career — the intersection of jazz and classical — the intersection of world-class improvisation and brilliant/sophisticated/i
nspired architectural composition. I believe this recording will go down in history as one of the most influential recordings of all time and will be analyzed in music text books 100-years from now.
This epic creation was only possible in a (Pat Metheny) Group setting.
It is possible that Pat Metheny feels the same way about this work that I do, and therefore realizes that another Pat Metheny Group recording could fall far short of the lofty standard created by The Way Up.
Thus, perhaps Pat Metheny has decided to leave The Pat Metheny Group medium on the high note.
Metheny has indeed released several world-class recordings since 2005:
- Metheny Mehldau (Quartet) 2006
- Metheny Mehldau Quartet (Quartet) 2007
- Day Trip (Trio) 2008
- Tokyo Day Trip Live (Trio) 2008
- Quartet Live (Quartet) 2009
- Orchestrion (Solo + “Robots”) 2010
- What’s It All About (Solo) 2011
- Unity Band (Future Quartet Release) 2012
None of the recordings use “Pat Metheny Group” in the name (as the question suggests) and none aspire to the full glory and full color of the more ambitious “Group” recordings.
We may have enjoyed our final “Pat Metheny Group” recording, which makes me quite sad. But if the reason I propose above is accurate, I cannot argue the wisdom of the decision.
Shortly after submitting this theory, I came across the following article on USA Today:
Ever since then, I knew a recording like Kin was on its way. However, I have observed subtle, but I believe deliberate choices made in the naming convention of the ensemble relating to its members through the years and now extending to Kin.
The first Pat Metheny studio recording ever was Bright Size Life in 1976. By 1977 Watercolors, however, Metheny had teamed up with Lyle Mays, who is referred to as a co-founder of the “Pat Metheny Group” according to Lyle’s Wikipedia page:
In 1974, he met Pat Metheny with whom he later founded the Pat Metheny Group.
The name of the 1978 recording Pat Metheny Group (aka “The White Album”) seemed to establish the brand that Lyle Mays would remain a part of for decades. The next recording in 1980 was titled American Garage and the named artist appeared again as “Pat Metheny Group.”
We wouldn’t see the additional of the third long-term leg of the stool, Steve Rodby, until the 1981 record of Offramp. However, there are a couple of interesting naming nuances prior to Rodby joining the band. The epic 1980 recording As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls is not labelled as a “Pat Metheny Group” recording, rather “Pat Metheny & Lyle Mays” even though it was arguably a “group” setting with the inclusion of percussionist/vocalist Nana Vasconcelos. Also, a group recording 80/81 in 1980 featured five musicians, but not Lyle Mays (and not yet Rodby). Metheny’s name is given top billing but all five artists are listed and no mention of “band” or “group.”
One other naming convention anomaly is the 1992 recording Secret Story, where “Pat Metheny” is the only attributable artist on the title (No “Group”), even though Lyle Mays and Steve Rodby contributed to selected tracks. My theory here is that it is not presented as a “Pat Metheny Group” recording because Lyle Mays does not contribute to every track (he listed as a “Guest Artist”) and Metheny is listed as the only composer.
In 2000, we see the birth of a new band name, “Pat Metheny Trio” on Trio 99>00 and Trio Live. Don’t let the 1996 recording “Quartet” fool you — that is the name of the recording, the band name is still “Pat Metheny Group” on that same recording.
We see this naming convention pattern hold steady for decades…
“Pat Metheny Group” means Metheny and Mays typically co-composing and Rodby and a drummer (Dan Gottlieb 1978-1983, Paul Wertico 1984-2001, Antonio Sanchez 2002-present). The group also typically featured 1-3 additional supporting musicians performing on countless instruments and providing vocals inluding Nana Vasconcelos 1981-1982 (vocals, percussion), Pedro Aznar 1983–1985 and again 1989-1992 (vocals, percussion, bass, guitars, saxophone), David Blamires 1986-1988 and again 1995-1997 (vocals, various instruments), Mark Ledford 1986-1988 and again 1995-1998 (vocals, various instruments), Armando Marçal 1987-1996 (percussion), Jeff Haynes 1997-1998 (percussion, vocals, various instruments), Phillip Hamilton 1997-1998 (vocals, various instruments), and Richard Bona 2002-2005 (Percussion, vocals, electric bass, acoustic guitar).
Other recording were not given “Pat Metheny Group” titles for various other reasons, including solo projects, ad hoc band assemblies for a single recording, acoustic trio settings, etc.
Given the deep intellect of Metheny and Mays, I cannot believe that all of these naming conventions were not deliberate.
In 2007, right around the time that many Metheny fans were expecting a new “Pat Metheny Group” recording following the Magnum Opus of The Way Up in 2004, Metheny presented Orchestrion. This fan in particular could not help but to notice how the Orchestrionics seemed to mimic the broad palette of sounds usually reserved for “Pat Metheny Group” type settings. After all, the Orchestrionics allows for bass, drums, piano(s), percussion, etc. to be performed live. Even human vocals were seemlingly emulated vis-a-vis air passing over tuned-fluid-filled bottles.
Pure speculation, but could it have been that other members of the “Pat Metheny Group” were hesitant if not resistant to another “Group” recording and tour, and Metheny produced Orchestrion in part to make a statement that “OK, I’ll do it myself.”?
While there is no evidence of friction among the “Group” members to the outside world, Lyle Mays in particular is on several recorded interviews expressing concern over the time commitment necessary for a a full-scale tour.
Then in 2012, we see the birth of a new ensemble name… “Pat Metheny Unity Band” featuring Pat Metheny, Antonio Sanchez (the only other carry-over from “The Pat Metheny Group”), Ben Williams, and Chris Potter as a straight-ahead jazz quartet (with some Orchestrionics occasionally thrown in for good fun).
While we have always hear Metheny refer to any ensemble that he is leading or a part of as “his band” or “the band,” we’ve never seen the name “Band” as an official ensemble name. Moreover, the choice of the peaceful term “Unity” is notable. I’ll leave it at that.
With Kin (←→) we see even a new variant, “Pat Metheny Unity Group.” Pure speculation again, but I cannot help but see this as an attempt to convey the full-scale-color associated with “Pat Metheny Group” while intersecting this new term and concept of Unity. Metheny addresses this topic head-on in interviews and attributes the naming changes to the personnel changes — the addition of multi-instrumentalist Guilio Carmassi being the primary purpose for the change from “Band” to “Group.”
Pat Metheny Unity Group Kin (<–>)
Based upon the timeline above, the last time Pat Metheny released a recording with the word “Group” in the title was 2004 – his Magnum Opus – The Way Up.
A Magnum Opus is a tough act to follow.
I have withheld any written thoughts or comments on Kin until I was able to obtain and study the score:
I took the same approach with The Way Up – that just how we music academics roll. 🙂
Perhaps the first contrast I noticed was independent “songs” or “tracks” on Kin as opposed to the “one long song” philosophical/architectural construct of The Way Up. In other words, Pat Metheny explained the aspiration to produce the maximum amount of music a modern CD could contain (~70 minutes) on The Way Up – arbitrary points of articulation were subsequently applied and labelled Part(s) 1-4. In contrast, Kin presents nine discrete compositions on its song/track list:
1 On Day One (15:15)
2 Rise Up (11:56)
3 Adagia (2:14)
4 Sign of the Season (10:14)
5 Kin (<–>) (11:02)
6 Born (7:51)
7 Genealogy (0:38)
8 We Go On (5:32)
9 Kqu (5:27)
However, all the tracks add up to over 70-minutes of recorded music – again maximizing the amount of music a modern CD can contain.
My first listening of the music on Kin came via a preview sampler released on YouTube weeks before the recording was actually released.
The sounds I heard were unlike anything I had ever heard before. The sounds I heard were unlike anything I had heard – even from Pat Metheny. The most dominant voice was a saxophone. In interviews, I’ve observed Metheny saying something to the effect that he’s been waiting 30+ for a Chris Potter to come along.
It was a big, rich, studio-produced sound of many layers – layers of harmony, rhythms, and timbres.
The streaming images accompanying the video included a Pat Metheny quote:
“If the first record was a black and white documentary, this record is like the 3D IMAX version of what that band could be but with that hardcore quartet thing still sitting right in the middle of it all.”
I immediately felt compelled to comment on this video after hearing the preview for the first time:
“The last time I had this feeling was when I heard a pre-release broadcast of The Way Up on XM Radio (the former channel “Beyond Jazz” on Channel 72) in late 2004. Ever since then, I didn’t think anything could ever top the musical tour de force of The Way Up. I was wrong. The 2-minutes I heard are the most amazing sounds ever from a Pat Metheny “Group.” I’m insanely eager for the full-release and then to see the live tour from the front row in March. Bravo, Pat Metheny. And thank you (again).”
I the immediately rushed to Twitter and posted:
Sean Fenlon@seanfenlon ·
A pre-release sample of @PatMetheny Unity Group – Kin (←→) made available today. All I can say is: O… M… G… :-O
A few weeks after the preview, I received my advance-purchase copy. It was also released on iTunes (where I bought another copy) and on HDtracks.com in Hi-res (where I bought yet another copy).
Here’s my theory of the recording…
The first five tracks of Kin are similar to five movements of a 19th century (think Beethoven/Brahms) symphony. Before you laugh and scoff, please have your closest music major listen to the first five tracks using this lens below (as opposed to the actual song titles):
I. Allegro ma non troppo (15:15) – the most cerebral of all the track – establishes the home key of C
II. Allegro (11:56) – Think of as Scherzo/Trio form among two key centers
III. Adagio (2:14)
IV. Andante molto moss (10:14)
V. Allegretto (11:02) – Backfall appoggiatura-filled main theme – big Coda climax