Q&A: Mike Metheny

Q&A: Mike Metheny

June 19, 2011 Off By The Jazz Messenger

We last heard from Mike Metheny on his excellent and insightful blog Doc Severinsen-A Legend, And A Friend. Since then he’s been working on another musical project close to his heart, a compilation of his own favorite recorded tracks over the past 20 years. So we meet up again in the Q&A to talk about his new “best of” recording Old Wine/New Bossa: Selected Tracks. – JV

How would you describe yourself artistically over the past 20 years?
More experienced and mature now in many ways, but in others not much has changed. I’m still trying to find the right notes and do justice to the many musical yardsticks that will always be part of the creative process.

You have favored the flugelhorn over the trumpet for many years now. What does the flugelhorn offer you as a player more than the trumpet?
The flugelhorn has a naturally darker sound. And my sound on trumpet has always been much too bright, especially when it comes to that search for the “voice” I’ve always wanted. Plus, many of my heroes have been flugelhorn players. Art Farmer, Clark Terry, Freddie Hubbard… So, the flugelhorn it is. I don’t even own a trumpet anymore.

You continue to play and have recorded a lot of material using the Electronic Value Instrument (EVI). What do like about that device as an instrumentalist and do you feel it is somewhat underrated (as an instrument)?
The EVI is not only underrated, it is nearly obsolete! Too few trumpet players were willing to put in the time needed to navigate its complicated fingering system. Plus, it really is quite different in many ways from a real trumpet, especially in terms of embouchure. But for me it has always offered another option when it comes to musical expression. And because it’s a wind synthesizer and requires little or no chops, it’s also a good way to rest my lip as needed. But then there are all those extra trips to and from the car before and after the gig. The drummer is usually packed up and gone before I am.

Your recording Old Wine/New Bossa: Selected Tracks is a hand picked collection of selected works over the past 20 years. What was the motivation to put out a “best of” type of recording?
One motivation was to release an entire record that didn’t have any of those dreaded “what was I thinking?!” moments in terms of production and my own performances. But most of all this project has given me a chance to acknowledge many of the talented people I’ve had the privilege of working with over the years, which includes musicians and engineers alike. I’ve been very lucky that way. And like I said before, there aren’t any moments on this one where I have to cough real loud at the exact moment of a big clam.

What was the most challenging aspect of selecting the tracks for Old Wine/New Bossa?
That actually was the easy part and the most fun. It was basically a matter of getting out all the solo recordings and picking what worked best on each, then coming up with a sequence that made sense. Of course, from a technical standpoint, it was somewhat challenging to equalize the levels from sessions that happened in different studios over a span of different decades. But we came pretty close.

Over the past 30 years you have lived and recorded in two major jazz hubs: Boston and Kansas City. Can you briefly describe how each of these areas is reflected in the music showcased on Old Wine/New Bossa?
Again, I’ve been lucky to work with some of the best players in each city which, as you say, are both major jazz hubs. And many of those musicians are included on this compilation. One regret, however, is that I wasn’t able to include as much Boston as I would have liked. I made three albums there in the early to mid ’80s that are still owned by the original record company. But I was able to find a good solid hour of representative material from all the others.

On the “Brandenburg Concerto No. 3” you return to your classical roots but add a contemporary flavor by performing multiple parts on the EVI. Can you tell us why you selected this piece and how you approached putting this track together?
In a lot of ways Bach was one of the first jazz musicians. And so much of today’s jazz vocabulary can be traced back to those early baroque masters, many of whom were also great improvisers. I’d like to think that if Bach were alive today he’d love the way his music ended up in the melting pot that became what we now call jazz. And as far as our version of the Brandenburg, I used a cool flute patch with the EVI, we turned on the click track, and I hoped for the best.

Mike Metheny – Brandenburg Concerto No. 3/”Allegro”

The track “Ta-ta For Now” is a beautiful bossa nova piece where you and your brother Pat are featured together. Can you tell us about this tune and the personal meaning being able to record with your brother?
Over the years when Pat and I have played together, I’ve heard people talk about how our phrasing is so similar, as it is on that track. And because Pat grew up around trumpet players — including me, our dad, and our grandfather — it makes sense that his lines have always been very horn-like. Which is one more reason it is always such a pleasure for me when we have those rare opportunities to do something together. “Ta-ta For Now” is easily my favorite track on the whole compilation.

Mike Metheny-Ta-ta For Now

Mike Metheny – Old Wine/New Bottle: Selected Tracks
Official Mike Metheny Website

Photo credit: Dan White