by Monty Zike
Music as an entirety has been feeling like it is out of places to go as we travel further into the 2000s. Most new artists are content to milk the pop formula for all it’s worth, while many bands on the radio seem to be happy playing sterile, tasteless rock with no regard to depth or songwriting. Thankfully, the underground is alive with people stepping into time machines, and taking us back to cozy, familiar sounds. Rock n’ roll has gone in that direction, and also jazz, blues and country are yielding a much needed revival of the old ways. From the streets of LA, Sasha’s Bloc is straight out of some 1920s cocktail lounge in a black and white, noir detective film.
Brought together under the vision of Moscow bred bassist Alexander Gershman, the ensemble pumps some life back into a genre popularized by Sinatra, Dean Martin, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Lawrence Welk and Duke Ellington. The line-up features an impressive roster of singers and players that have worked with everyone from Earth, Wind and Fire to Bob Dylan to Luther Vandross and Stevie Wonder! The slinky, warmly inebriated, “Lonely Day in Paris,” comes off like Ol’ Blue Eyes fronting Lawrence Welk’s Orchestra. Everything swings, jives and smoothly gets you into the mood. A hearty brass section highlights the saxophone and trombones while the buoyant bass lines and uplifting piano melodies trip the light fantastic on the nimble, carpet rustling percussive triplets. The instrumental workout is involved, and burns off any fattening, excessive calories. This is the good stuff and nothing but.
Lusty, pleasantly sinful lead vocals courtesy of Jane Monheit get a ballroom groove going on, “Feels like Jazz,” which walks a tightrope between exotic, erotic guitar licks and a flirty cabaret shuffle. Joining together the vocals of Nora Rothman and Patrick Tuzzolino, a wistful duet comes into view over a dramatic backdrop focusing on a hop-a-long, saloon style piano lead while the horns splash color on any gray areas. You’ll immediately want to swing your partner around as soon as you hear it. “Black and Blue” is a dazzling, lights out ballad the likes of which Nat King Cole would have sung on, again toying with co-lead vocals and mellow accents from the saxophone and violin. It’s a cheek to cheek number that reaches crescendo via Nahum Zdybel’s classically plucked guitar leads.
Instead of settling in for a mid-album slump, the tunes start teasing more and playing harder. “Breakfast,” “Take a Chance,” “Angel,” “Sunday Blues” and the Andrews Sisters’ ragtime of “Manhattan” maintains a hip-shaking, body swaying attitude that will win over music diehards who think all stellar songcraft died after the arrival of Elvis Presley. Meanwhile, the title track embers and flickers like a Nahum ZdybelNahum Zdybelcampccampfire at dawn, and instrumental “The Duke” hoists the flag high and pays a true homage to the innovator Ellington himself. There is absolutely zero padding or filler to be found in a set of songs that run on sheer passion.
Heart on Fire is the third release from Sasha’s Bloc, and one listen reveals that these musicians are artisans of the genre. The variety, writing and playing is second to none, resulting in songs that one can enjoy again and again. They prove that there is more life in the past to bring kicking and screaming into today. It seems that the band plays out live a lot and I can bet they shine even brighter on a club stage amongst an audience besieged by alcohol and love. This is some real, honest to God music right here, made for stirring a blaze in the human heart.