The Birdman of Ottawa: Antonio Sánchez at the Festival
Few contemporary jazz artists have made an impression on mainstream audiences like Antonio Sánchez,
whose innovative jazz score for the Academy Award-winning film Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue
of Ignorance) drew unanimous praise. Essentially a two hour drum solo, the score is as much a showcase
for his technical chops as his compositional acumen. Ottawa fans now have a rare opportunity to see Antonio
Sánchez and his Migration band live in the NAC Studio at the TD Ottawa Jazz Festival on June 26th.
Among jazz fans, Sánchez is probably best known for his 15-plus year musical relationship with Pat Metheny,
with whom he has shared several Grammy wins, and for his work as a sideman with the likes of Chick Corea
and Michael Brecker. With his own group, The Migration Quartet, Sánchez’s recent work has taken its
conceptual lead from the Birdman score.
“‘The movie is basically one long continuous shot,” he explains, referring to the film’s illusion of being
shot in a single take as it follows Michael Keaton through his Broadway breakdown. “That’s also what
I wanted to do with this suite; to the listener it should be seamless.’
The suite takes full advantage of the versatility and wide-ranging palette of Migration, the quartet that
Sánchez has led since 2011. Tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake doubles on Electric Wind Instrument
(EWI), John Escreet on piano and Fender Rhodes, and Matt Brewer on both acoustic and electric
bass. Sánchez also layered keyboard atmospherics onto the album in post-production along with a wide
array of guitars from Adam Rogers, while singer Thana Alexa contributes soaring lyrics to the second
movement, ‘Imaginary Lines,’ and coloristic wordless vocals elsewhere.
The seed of the suite was planted while Sánchez was on tour with Metheny in Meridian, Mississippi in
2012. The title was originally a makeshift file name, but took on greater meaning as Sánchez began to
research the idea of meridians, imaginary lines that circle the globe, the celestial sphere, or, in some new age
conceptions, the body’s energy field. ‘You have meridians that cross the earth, that cross the sky, that cross
our bodies and our minds, and I started getting fascinated by the way meridians interact in all those different
shapes and forms,’ Sánchez says. ‘So I thought it was a very good analogy for the way the rhythmic, melodic
and harmonic aspects of this composition intertwine, interact and meet over the course of the whole piece.’
With motifs, phrases and concepts that recur and transform throughout the piece’s five movements, The
Meridian Suite is a thrillingly adventurous achievement that absorbs influences from modern rock,
freeform improvisation and electronic music into a forward-looking jazz masterwork. ‘I took a lot of liberties
and let a lot of my musical influences come through in a very unapologetic way,’ the composer says.”
Sánchez joins a stacked lineup in The Studio Series, including stars like Abdullah Ibrahim, the Kenny Werner
Trio and Enrico Rava Tribe feat. Gianluca Petrella.