|As it happens, there were some major changes on the horizon for the Group. "Around the time I began to start thinking seriously about what kind of thing we would be shooting for this time, it became clear that we would be welcoming a fantastic new drummer to the band, Antonio Sanchez." Pat goes on to say "His presence and the amazing musical opportunities that he could offer us became the impetus for most everything that was to follow."
Says Metheny "I first heard Antonio a couple of years ago when I played a concert with my trio opposite Danilo Perez and his. I literally ran to the stage to see who the drummer was. I have rarely heard such musicality, sensitivity, virtuosic technique, dynamic and stylistic range and soul all wrapped up in one player."
Sanchez comes from Mexico City, Mexico and in addition to his amazing drumming skills he was a degree candidate at the National Conservatory of Music in Mexico City with a major in classical piano. Metheny continues; "He is more than just a great drummer; he is an extremely intelligent all-around musician that brings a wide range of resources to his drumming. A number of my favorite drummers -- Jack DeJohnette and Bill Stewart would be a great examples -- are also really good piano players. That seems to allow people like Jack or Antonio to bring a knowledge of harmony and a larger view of music to their playing that seems to greatly expand the potential of their imagination beyond the parameters of what a drummer's usual role can be . Antonio is deep - when he plays, you can hear that wider awareness of all of the details of the music that had to have evolved out of all of those years of training on the piano and knowing intimately the inner workings of that music as a performer - and that is in addition to his amazing technique on the drums. But at the same time, having said all that; the guy simply can groove beyond belief. I can't say how much I love playing with him and how excited and energized we all are to have him joining us in the band."
Metheny continues, "With the addition of Antonio, suddenly it was a whole new ball game. The ante was seriously upped. We found ourselves with a drummer who is probably one of the most talented musicians of his generation, certainly one of the most talented people that this group has ever had, and his presence in the band really gave me a chance to kind of reflect on everything this group historically has been all about and where we could take it from here. When he and Steve first played together, there appeared to be amazing musical opportunities that could unfold with this rhythm section. As has happened at a few other junctures in the bands story, there is was this sense of the possibilities feeling totally unlimited."
"The next challenge was to find a few additional personalities who could complement and expand upon this incredible new energy that Lyle, Steve and myself felt through playing with and the possibility of writing for Antonio."
Metheny began a period of soul searching. "We have covered so many things as a band over the years, but there were a few moments along the way where the specific personalities of the players themselves had a greater impact than at other times in defining the band sound of that time. I'm thinking of the really early quartet records or records like OFFRAMP, like when Steve Rodby with his great acoustic bass playing first joined us -- or FIRST CIRCLE when suddenly we had the amazing voice of Pedro Aznar to write for. I really felt it was important to add people to the core band this time that had very specific sounds and very personal ways of thinking about music that could intersect with our thing and hopefully morph into something unique."
Pat started the process of finding someone by going through dozens of new albums by new artists and going out regularly around his hometown of New York to scope out new talent and by asking other respected musicians if by chance they had heard any new players lately that had made their ears perk up.
"One of the first people I called was Richard Bona, an incredible musician from Cameroon in West Africa who has made quite an impact on the music scene since he first started appearing on records and touring with such artists as Joe Zawinul a few years ago. I called him, not because I thought he himself would be necessarily be interested in playing with us, but because I thought he might know of some musicians that I might not be aware of who might be good candidates for us."
"So when I asked him if he knew anyone, he said, 'Yeah, I know just the person ....... me!' He went on to tell me about all the times he had seen the PMG over the years and how one of the things he had always wanted to do was to play with us. At first, I wasn't sure he was serious. After all, Richard is one of the most sought after players around right now and has a few very well received records of his own and is quite busy playing with what seems like, well, just about everyone. He is known primarily as an electric bass player, and I don't really have any need for that since I already have a great bass player. But the more we talked about it, the more I realized he was in fact very serious about the whole thing - serious to the point of wanting to do a formal audition with us to show us how it could be. He also explained to me that his first instrument was actually percussion and that he would love the chance to function as a singer/percussionist with us."
"He didn't have to twist my arm. Just at the thought of having him sing with us, I went home and started writing. His voice - just the sound of it - inspires me so much. The whole idea of him being part of this band was incredibly stimulating. Lyle and Steve came out - we had a jam session with Richard and Antonio and it was instantly a perfect fit. In fact, it was amazing. To hear him sing some of our older pieces in his unique style was just so beautiful. And without really knowing what to expect, I was also totally knocked out by his percussion playing. It has always been hard for us to find percussionists who really understand the textural 'clave' of this band. Richard instantly was inside the details of our music in a way that was unique and totally his, but also perfectly appropriate for the way that we all play together. He is really kind of a super-musician. Music just seems to come out of him in a rare kind of abundance, with a rare kind of beauty. It doesn't matter whether he is singing, or what instrument he is playing, each moment that he addresses music is special and filled with his unique qualities. Like with Antonio, having a new musician at that level in this band is like a dream."
So, how did Metheny arrive at a decision for the sixth member of the new PMG?
"One night I was listening to an internet radio station, and they played a piece by an artist named Cuong Vu. It was a trio of trumpet, electric bass and drums. It floored me. It was a kind of music that really went beyond any of the standard definitions of what jazz is 'supposed' to be, so just through that accomplishment alone it impressed me. But there was something about it, some intangible quality that I have a very difficult time explaining - and as much as i like all kinds of music, it is difficult for me to find that particular thing to this degree. Something drew me to the way these guys were playing the same way I am attracted to very few other things - a sense of familiarity and resonance somewhere deep inside me."
"Honestly, I didn't know if 'Cuong Vu' was the name of the band, or of one of the musicians or what. So, I typed it into a search engine and quickly learned that Cuong Vu was the trumpet player, that he had been born in Viet Nam and came to the States when he was really young, right after the fall of Saigon. I began to try to do some research on him, trying to find out everything I could about him. I tried to find all the records I could with his name on them."
"I found out that he had been kind of on the scene in New York for a few years, playing with a branch of the jazz community that is loosely centered around a few of the clubs downtown that feature players that are looking to expand the boundaries of jazz and improvised music. I made a few calls to some other musicians to see if anyone knew him or knew his number with no luck. I just wanted to call him and tell him how much I dug what he was doing."
"Finally I just thought, 'Well, how many Cuong Vu's could there be in phone book? This being New York, maybe there is more than one, but it's worth a try to check it out.' I called 411, and It turned out that there was just one, a Brooklyn number, a likely place for a young aspiring musician in New York to live. I called the number, left a message saying that if this is the same Cuong Vu that is a musician that I would like to talk to him and say hi, etc.".
"A few days went by and finally I heard back from him. The big surprise in this story for me was that it turned out that Cuong was a major fan of the PMG -- he had seen us play many times over the years, considered us one of his favorite bands and knew our music inside and out. He had thought the message on his machine was a practical joke left by one of his friends and his curiosity got the best of him that there was a chance that it might be a real call which was why he was even calling back. We had a great talk and made an appointment to get together the next day."
"In the meantime, I got Cuong's first record, a different one from the one that I had heard on the Internet radio show. On this record, Cuong sings one song called 'Bound'. I couldn't believe how great he sounded as a singer. I have to admit, my wheels started turning."
"Honestly, in the back of my mind, I think I have been looking for a horn player for this band for many years - really since the very beginning. But the nature of the way this band functions is that it is all about bebop - but we never ever come right out and actually do that. Most horn players, if they can play bebop, they WANT to play bebop. That would just not cut it with us - it would just sound wrong. When I heard Cuong, I realize now that that resonance I was talking about was there precisely because I could instantly hear that he was a musician who had really looked at the way that his instrument has traditionally functioned within the world of jazz in detail, and yet was hard at work at finding his own way into the music without resorting to simply mining the details of previous styles of playing the horn in the name of the 'tradition'. He was looking to find his own way of playing - with more than a little success."
"But what really clinched it for me was this amazing way that he had literally communicated to me as a listener. I mean, the track that I heard of him on this radio station could not have been further away stylistically from the music of the PMG - it was from an entirely different aesthetic universe, as is much of his music. Yet, at the same time, I could hear in there, as clear as day, a shared way of thinking about melody, about sound, and about the way that spirit is manifested into music in that special way that i love in certain players. The fact that Cuong had grown up checking our thing out and had come up with this singular way of playing that through the cyber-airwaves communicated so directly to me made me realize that I may have finally found a guy who could add something to our thing that would be special as a horn player. I just love way he sounds. And he can sing his ass off too, making him really perfect for us. I am so happy to have him in the band."
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