Sasha’s Bloc – Heart on Fire
The sounds of swing, jazz and big band are partying out on the strip tonight. Hailing from Los Angeles, this is music to celebrate the nightlife. Research tells me Heart on Fire is album number three from these mavens of futuristic soul. Those longing for a style that isn’t as in the public eye as it used to be will fall head over heels for these simultaneously progress and regressive anthems.
Sasha’s Bloc is the child of Alexander Gershman, a Russia to America transplant who quickly made a reputation for himself with this project. He has enlisted himself a veritable army of lead and supporting musicians to make his dream a reality, including male and female vocal talents, a horn section, guitar, drums, percussion, two pianists and a host of other esteemed guests. They aren’t just guests as the band you hear on the album is the one that you will see live at the shows. I watched a few live videos in preparation for some background on this review, and you can tell that there isn’t disconnect between the recorded music and the concerts. This is an outfit that can back up what they have committed to tape.
Despite more smoothness than a margarita on a hot summer day, Heart on Fire is an album that only takes occasional dips in octane, delivering an end result that’s all about live wire, shocking acrobatics. Many of the tracks are designed to get you moving and keep your feet in constant action. Lead-in cut, “Lonely Day in Paris” jumps into the fray on the haunches of a punchy, stand-up bass swagger while the rest of the band quakes the terra firma with robust brass, effortless snare fills from drummer Kevin Winard and a tom cattin’ trombone solo. It’s their attention to shifting tempos and fluctuation of soloists that prevents boredom from ever setting in on the listener.
“Feels like Jazz” is bathed in baroque, downplayed jive that features a bombshell lead vocal from Miss Jane Monheit. You get the embedded mental image of her sitting atop a grand piano singing the song to returning soldiers. The entire feeling is the music of yesterday brought to life in glorious Technicolor. Rock n’ roll guitar soloing is fired off like a Roman candle on the boisterous, half vocal/half instrumental “Take a Chance,” a tune moniker that sums up exactly what the band does throughout. The heat is especially felt in the song’s later stages where the drumming steps out for a rolling march while the brass blares up Heaven. This piece is especially hard to capture in written word, but it is always climbing to another emotional plateau.
Weighing in as perhaps the record’s most soul-anchored, slow burner, the title track focuses solely on the female lead vocals and piano accoutrements. Every other instrument is used sparingly. Besides “Black and Blue” it is the most laid-back, easy going cut on the record. Elsewhere, the orchestral, military big band swing of “Manhattan” and energetic, “Breakfast” wrangle a show stealing amount of energy.
There is not much to be found at fault with Heart on Fire. If anything it would have been welcome for a larger quantity of tracks. The production is classy, never rendering a digital fakeness to the proceedings and the musicians are certainly in the upper echelon judged by our standards now. Some extra emphasis on the guitar from time to time, and another song or two like “Manhattan” will only sweeten the deal on forthcoming releases, but there isn’t any wrongdoing to be heard here If you miss the era of blues, soul and jazz, where people could gracefully play instruments without simply “making noise,” you will love this album from front to back.