Guitarist Pat Metheny first headlined a show in Richmond almost exactly 45 years ago, on a warm night in June 1978, before a very small audience at the Pass, an un-air-conditioned upstairs club.
About a year later, he sold out the far larger Empire Theater. He’s toured through town many times since, both with large scale, borderline orchestral bands at the Altria Theater, and with his tight-knot trios at the Modlin Center. He also has collaborated with everyone from Joni Mitchell to Ornette Coleman and found ways to apply his instantly recognizable sound to an ever-expanding range of sonically varied projects.
His upcoming album, “Dream Box,” is a collection of solo recordings he found in a forgotten folder on a digital drive. But for Sunday’s performance at the National he is playing with two young sidemen in his Side Eye trio. The lack of a string bassist in the band may seem a bit unconventional, but it is connected to a configuration with a rich history.
Style Weekly: Who is playing in the Side Eye trio on the Richmond gig? Given that the keyboards are also playing the basslines, who can credibly fill the roles held in the past by players like Jaco Pastorius and Lyle Mays?
Metheny: In my early years playing around Kansas City, the organ trio (organ, guitar, drums) was huge. The idea for this band is really related to a whole different thing than the guys you mentioned, which is the idea of building on the organ trio concept and seeing what else it might be in the 21st century. Chris [Fishman] and Joe [Dyson] are incredible musicians well suited to that goal. I am really excited about what we can get to as a trio.
Over your career you’ve ranged from intimate trios to borderline metal (“Zero Tolerance for Silence) to large-scale productions (“The Way Up.”) What interests you most in the music you are doing now?
Music is infinite for me. I always have way more ideas than I will ever have time to get to. I get up very early every day and start working on things and there is nothing I enjoy more. My thing has been pretty consistent about building additions onto the basic premise set up on “Bright Size Life.” I kind of feel like it is all one long tune and that each stage of things is like a chapter in a long novel with different characters coming and going with a central plot that keeps going.
After decades of success, what makes a performance successful? What keeps things fresh onstage?
When I first starting making records and being in Gary Burton’s band, I had only been playing for a few years at that point. Now it is like 50-plus. I can get to the zones I want to get to much more faithfully now, so most nights I feel like it [is] possible to talk in depth about the things that really matter to me that I hope to share with the other musicians and the folks who might come to the gig.
How do you feel about your career at this stage? It seems that you were successful almost immediately. (After that sparsely attended first show in 1978, the second Richmond performance, for “American Garage” was sold out.) What are you most proud of? What mountains remain to be climbed?
Anything that has ever happened around the music is far beyond anything I ever imagined or envisioned. Of course, I am grateful for all of it and appreciate everything that happens that is in the category of “career” stuff. But honestly, my goal has always been to try to understand music and to try to be a good musician at the standards that have been set by the musicians I admire the most.
If you come to my house, you won’t see any awards on the wall or anything like that, just a bunch of instruments and a lot of manuscript paper. I still don’t feel anywhere close to where I would like to get to as a musician, but I do feel like I have made a lot of progress, so that’s good.
Who are you listening to that you think deserves wider recognition, or is in some way moving things forward?
I think almost everyone who is aspiring to be a good musician deserves wider recognition. Music is hard, but a great way to live. We get to trade in a currency that is fundamentally true. When you wake up each day, you can be sure that B flat is still B flat. I usually love musicians who share that same kind of aspiration regardless of where they fall on the stylistic spectrum.
Pat Metheny and Side Eye play the National on Sunday, June 11 at 7:30. Tickets are $33-42.