Sasha’s Bloc Heart On Fire
My grandmother owned an enormous floor model stereo system, circa 195-, outfitted with a turntable and needle arm that looked as wide as a PVC pipe. A record collection of big band jazz still filled the stereo when I plumbed its depths as a child thirty years later. When I played some of the records, nothing hooked into me like rock music did. However, a little over twenty years removed from my early teen years, hearing Los Angeles based Sasha’s Bloc new album Heart on Fire brings me face to face with supremely entertaining music and top notch musicianship that I’ve, thankfully, matured enough to appreciate.
A drum roll brings us into “Day In Paris”, a full-on orchestral vamp with the brass section playing a crucial role. If vocalist Patrick Tuzzolino is guilty of aping Ol’ Blue Eyes himself, Frank Sinatra, no honest listener can say he doesn’t do a superb job of it without ever descending into any sort of outright shtick. An important quality present on the track that rises up repeatedly throughout the album is that, while the band never breaks new ground, they are outstanding performers playing this music with passion, skill, and respect rather than an eye towards peddling cheap nostalgia.
A trio of female voices provides gorgeous counterpoint to Alvin Chia’s lush croon on “Black and Blue”, but the singing isn’t the track’s sole strength. Attentive guitar playing stands out here and its contribution adds poetic flair to already evocative backing. “Take A Chance” has an appealing jaunty, piano-driven stroll that ventures off into some tricky instrumental territory earlier tracks rarely touch. Some deceptively simple scat singers that add another welcome flavor to the track highlight Nora Rothman’s breezy vocal. The moody torch song simmer of the album’s title track derives a majority of its ambiance from Grammy-nominated vocalist Jane Monheit’s languid phrasing. This is arguably the album’s finest moment because it strikes a perfect balance between the singing and instrumental backing.
Heart on Fire’s sole instrumental track, “The Duke”, is a moving ballad full of intimacy and breathtaking fluency. Melodies abound and follow a sonic narrative of their own underpinned by a subtle, almost ghostly, rhythm section. For me, listening to this conjures visions of smoke-filled rooms, late hours, and starry skies. The closing romp “Manhattan” delivers the expected goods with its sleek shuffle and vamp-heavy, celebratory glide.
There’s a great deal of artistry here. This is a collective bursting at the seams with top shelf musicians and enriched by a deep bench of guest stars with inspired contributions. There isn’t much here that’s blazingly original, so if you are looking for brave new worlds in jazz music, there’s nothing for you here. However, for jazz devotees justifiably standing on the outside looking in on the modern music world, Heart on Fire is a swinging affirmation of all they hold dear.