A Different Drum | The Source Weekly - Bend, Oregon

A Different Drum

Birdman composer brings grown-up jazz to Bend

Antonio Sánchez is not just a drummer, a musician, or even just a composer. His score for the film Birdman contributed to making that film the immersive and innovative work that it was. The score is simultaneously omnipresent and clandestine, the percussive masterwork creating tension and unease in moments of slapstick comedy or abstract pathos. It is the new high watermark for film composition and will probably be that way for some time to come.

His work as frontman for the band Migration could not be more different than his film compositions. The group's new album, Meridian Suite, is jazz for grown-ups. It is complex, yet not so abstract as to be hermetically sealed to the casual jazz admirer. It's a solid and downright entertaining album, with a seamless continuity that gives light to Sánchez's versatility in the opening minutes, while feeling like one, unbroken thought process given form.

Sánchez is coming to Bend in support of Meridian Suite and is bringing Migration with him. The band includes such giants as Seamus Blake on tenor sax, John Escreet on piano, and Matt Brewer on electric and acoustic bass. Judging from the album, this should be an legendary show featuring some of the greatest jazz musicians around. Here's an excerpt of a conversation this reporter had with Antonio Sánchez last week:

Source Weekly: So, were drums always the instrument of choice from as early as you can remember?

Antonio Sánchez: Yes, since five years old. I remember seeing my first drum kit and I fell in love with it. It was love at first sight and I never looked back.

SW: And how quickly did you dive into jazz in particular?

AS: Jazz took me a long time. I was a rocker at heart. I've always loved rock and roll music. My father was from the Woodstock generation, so I grew up listening to what he was listening to: The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Cream, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix...you name it. Those were my first influences. I didn't get into jazz until much, much later when I was studying classical piano at the [National] Conservatory. There was a jazz workshop and I started going and checking what they were doing. I started getting into the possibilities that jazz and improvisation gives to an instrumentalist. That must have been in my late teens when I started getting into that.

SW: Can you tell me a bit about how you formed Migration and what you see as your mission as a group?

AS: I wanted to create a band where there were absolutely no rules, no preconceptions about what kinds of music we're going to play. If it has jazz influence, great, if it has rock influence, great, but I just wanted it to be open for me to write whatever the hell I wanted without having to worry about the musicianship of the other members of the band and whether they could pull it off or without any stylistic limitations of the members of the band.

SW: I've always described the Birdman score as the musical equivalent of the sound of anxiety. Is that what you were going after?

AS: Absolutely. Between Alejandro [G. Iñárritu], the director, and everything...it was all under his guidance and direction. He wanted to portray the angst and mental state of mind of Riggan Thomson, the main character. So, before they started shooting the film, that's when I started with the demos. Just based on the script and what Alejandro would tell me, that's how I started coming up with the general vibe of what we were supposed to do. You know, as a musician on a nightly basis, I react to other musicians. In this particular case, I reacted to a storyline and, later, to images. I don't think it's that different though because I'm basically using my instincts the same way in both situations. That's why I think it was so second nature to improvise something that would portray, like you were saying, the anxiety of Riggan Thomson.

SW: Was that type of collaboration enjoyable for you?

AS: It was so much fun. It was really fast and very fluid. I was just doing my thing. That's what I really enjoyed about it: Alejandro let me do what I do, he didn't want me to start doing something that I'm not the guy for. He called me because he felt like I was the guy for that. The way that I can portray or transmit or communicate things on the drums, that's why he called me. For me it was really pleasurable. He's got a reputation for being really, really difficult, especially with how much he demands out of people. He's a great guy, but to me one of the coolest things about the whole thing was to collaborate in such a different field at that level with that level of creativity. To see how he works and how his mind works and to see how much he cares about his product...that was incredibly inspiring.

Antonio Sánchez & Migration

7:30 pm, Tuesday, Nov. 3

2nd Street Theater, 220 NE Lafayette Ave.


Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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