Apr 15, 2020 9:06 PM
On a chilly January night in New York City, drummer-composer Antonio Sánchez plays a full-body phrase. He hangs back in the measures before repeating it—a provocation. Alongside saxophonist and EWI artist Chase Baird, vocalist Thana Alexa stretches vowels around quarter-tones in extended moments of dissonance on the Blue Note stage. She recites a wordless incantation she’s never delivered—one she’ll never repeat. These moments of intensity are typical for a show by the band Migration.
During the past decade, Sánchez and Alexa’s distinct expressions have partnered. Now married, theses artists of Mexican and Croatian lineages share a home studio in Queens, where they frequently collaborate on their music. “We go into our separate writing spaces to compose, and then we workshop our ideas together,” Alexa says over a demitasse of espresso she’s pulled in the couple’s kitchen. Awards, magazine covers and clippings featuring Sánchez’s longtime mentor Pat Metheny flank their studio’s staircase, terminating at a framed movie poster for Birdman that lists the credit “drum score by Antonio Sánchez”—one that earned him a Grammy for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media.
“When I wrote Meridian Suite [released in 2015], I heard Thana’s voice throughout the album,” Sánchez says, leading a tour around his drum setup. Alexa contends her inner ear heard Sánchez’s drumming the moment she began composing material for her sophomore release, ONA, which translates to “she” in Croatian. It’s an album she views as a positive discourse on “what women have achieved in the face of oppression.”
But the artists took time to reach a point of mutual influence. When Sánchez met Alexa at a Carnegie Hall performance in 2008, he had been touring regularly with Metheny, as well as Chick Corea and the late Charlie Haden, and amassing a number of acclaimed album credits. At the time, the young singer had only rough sketches of what would become her debut release, Ode To Heroes. After a tentative MySpace exchange, the two began a monthslong friendship that evolved into a courtship and finally a life partnership—and artistic union.
After the death of Alexa’s brother in 2010, their bond only strengthened. They began to turn more vulnerably to one another, a change that would affect their music. Alexa’s sound began figuring more integrally into Migration, and she started touring with the ensemble. Sánchez supported her musically and morally as she worked through one challenge after another in realizing her ambitious vision for ONA. “It was an uphill battle from the beginning,” Alexa says. She lost half of the roughly $20,000 she’d raised for production and distribution when the now-defunct crowdfunding platform PledgeMusic liquidated assets in 2019. Nevertheless, she persisted. A grant from Cafe Royale Cultural Foundation finally allowed Alexa to complete the project and honor her pledges to fans.
Violinist Regina Carter recorded overdubs for ONA in the artists’ home studio. “We were all in the room together, which was very helpful as I could feed off of their energy,” she says. “ONA is an incredibly beautiful and powerful body of work. [Thana’s] compositions are rich and compelling, beautiful anthems.”
Bassist Matt Brewer has observed both Sánchez and Alexa as a member of Migration and as part of the high-octane rhythm section on ONA. “They both have incredible focus and attention to detail; the level of perfectionism that goes into making an album in that way makes an enormous difference,” Brewer says. “[Antonio’s] playing can be extremely solid and forceful, but also incredibly dynamic and malleable. The addition of Thana to [Migration] has clearly elevated the music.”
In their home studio in New York, the couple discussed the evolution of their individual sounds and what’s next for their growing musical partnership.
Apr 15, 2020 9:06 PM
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