Heart on Fire, set for release in March, is the second album from Sasha’s Bloc, a Los Angeles-based nonet formed in 2012 by Russian-born bassist and songwriter Alex Gershman. Steeped in the traditions of jazz from back in the ‘20s, ‘30s and ‘40s, the band is a collective of musicians from a variety of nationalities and perspectives aiming to reinvigorate interest in the rich musical genres that gave rise to modern jazz stylings. Rather than reworking the classics of the past, the band focuses on capturing the classic vibe in original compositions that evoke their spirit. The 11 tunes on the new album are all written by Gershman, either alone or collaboratively in three cases.
If Gershman and company have done nothing else, they have completely captured the sounds of the past (dixieland, swing). Individual tracks sound like they could well have been recorded 70 years ago and remastered for a reissue. Certainly there is nostalgia here, but it is less drippy sentimentalism than it is joyful celebration.
A gaggle of guest artists join the base nonet on individual tracks, most notably GRAMMY-nominated vocalist Jane Monheit, who delivers stunning vocals on the album’s title song, and three others—“Feels Like Jazz,” “Breakfast,” and “Sunday Blues.” Patrick Tuzzolino channels Frank Sinatra on the album’s opening number “Lonely Day in Paris,” and works with a trio—Princess Fortier, Glynis Leflore, and Octavia Pace—cloning the Andrews Sisters and their ilk, on “Angel.” Alvin Chia is joined by the ladies with a different sound on Gershman’s “Black and Blue” (not to be confused with the great Louis Armstrong tune).
The ladies close the album with jumping harmonies on “Manhattan.” Nonet member Nora Rothman does the vocal on “Take a Chance,” a song that includes an instrumental shout-out to “Perdido.” The sole instrumental on the album, “The Duke,” intended as a tribute to Duke Ellington, doesn’t quite manage the Ellington sound, but I doubt that was what was intended.
The musical styles of those early decades is too precious to be mummified. More than mere repetition, they deserve a creative legacy. A band like Sasha’s Bloc is that legacy.
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