by Bruce Von Stiers
I’ve always had a liking for the jazz music of the early 20 th century. From Scott Joplin’s ragtime to the Big Band sound, I’ve been a fan of pretty much all of it. With the popularity of series like Boardwalk Empire, more people are “discovering” the music that some of us have been into for a long time.
One group that does a fantastic job of bringing the styling of early 20 th Century jazz back into the spotlight is Sasha’s Bloc. This group is set to release their second album on March 17, 2015. The album is titled Heart On Fire.
Sasha’s Bloc is considered more of a jazz collective than a band. It fronted by songwriter and bassist Alex Gershman. Alex was raised in Moscow, Russia and is currently a clinical professor at UCLA Medical Center and the Chief of Laparoscopic Urologic Surgery at the same facility. It would seem that although Alex’s life’s work is in medicine, his passion is in jazz music. He provides bass for the album. Alex is joined in the collective by Brandon Fields on saxophone, Alex Budman on saxophone and clarinet, Kye Palmer on trumpet, Bob McChesney on trombone, Kevin Winard on drums, Steve Cotter on guitar, Andy Lanham on piano and Nora Rothman doing vocals. Brandon has a few solo albums under his belt along with playing on albums with a who’s who in pop and jazz, including one of my favorite modern jazz bands, The Rippingtons. Kye has played in the band on The Tonight Show, done songs for several soundtracks and has recorded and performed with Tony Bennett, Diane Shuur and LeAnn Rimes. Bob has a long pedigree of album appearances by such greats as Barbra Streisand, Diana Krall and Arturo Sandoval along with performing and teaching all across North America. Kevin started touring as a member of the band backing The Captain & Tennille then went on to play with Steve Tyrell and record on albums for people like Ray Brown, Jr. Peter Clark and Perla Batalla. Steve is another Steve Tyrell band alum, also performing on albums for Bette Midler and others. Andy has played for Terrance Blanchard, Randy Brecker and other top names. Alex Budman has performed with Boz Scaggs and Eric Clapton just to name a few top named artists. Nora has been doing club dates around the country including one the other day at the Mint in L.A and she’s played on other albums, including a few from Jessica Harper, who just happens to be Nora’s mom.
As they say on TV, but wait, there’s more. Guest performers are James Lum on the banjo, Marc T. Bolin is on tuba and Jason Fabus plays the accordion. James has played on albums such as Elmo Saves Christmas and is currently working on the Power of the Mother music project emphasizing on encouragement for families of special needs children. Marc plays with the Los Angeles Jazz Orchestra Unlimited and has performed with many top artists, including B.B. King and the Black Eyed Peas. Even though Jason plays the accordion on this album, he is known for his sax work too and fronts the jazz quintet the Fabus Five. There are guest vocalists on the album that I will cover with each song.
Alex Gershman wrote all of the music and lyrics for the songs on the album. The album was produced by Joe DiBlasi and co-produced by Bob McChesney. Joe had produced several top albums and has played guitar for Pink Floyd among other top acts. Sound production was done by Mauricio Guererro who has done albums with Beyonce, Shakira and Phil Collins. Bob Garad did the vocal arrangements and Elliot Deutsch did the music arrangements. Elliot has written material for people like Arturo Sandoval.
The first song is Day In Paris. It is a light, Frank Sinatra kind of tune. Alex wrote the song as kind of a dedication to Sinatra’s musical feel and style. Patrick Tuzzolino is the featured vocalist on the song. He’s been featured in a number of televisions shows such as Entourage and Shameless along with the film Angel Eyes among others. The song has some great horn music supporting the terrific vocals.
The second song is my favorite of the album. The title is Feels Like Jazz and is laden with sultriness. It is sung by Jane Monheit. Jane has several albums out, has been nominated for a Grammy twice and has been a guest performer on albums by Terrance Blanchard, Mark O’ Connor and Ray Brown, Jr. among others. Listening to the song, you can almost imagine Jane is an intimate club setting, with top jazz musicians backing her up, singing to you about all of the jerks she’s had to deal with, but here she is doing okay. There are excellent trumpet and guitar solos in the song as well.
Anything Is Possible is the third song on the album. It is a fun, toe-tapping once again featuring Patrick Tuzzolino. Joining Patrick is Nora Rothman. I mentioned Nora’s credentials earlier. The two trade off vocals and join together at times to make this a great song.
Alvin Chea is the bass in the a cappella gospel group Take 6 and has been heard in films such as Ides of March and Night At The Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian. He is joined on the songBlack And Blue by Glynis Leflore, an R & B and jazz vocalist who’s played a lot of club dates in the L.A. area. It is an endearing and tender song with terrific vocals by both Alvin and Glynis.
Breakfast is about enjoying life, beginning with breakfast. It is a terrific song that once again features Jane Monheit. The song has a New Orleans sound with great horn music, including a bit of tuba. It is my second favorite song on the album.
Nora Rothman is the featured vocalist on Take A Chance. It has a fairly long instrumental intro. Nora has a nice, light lyrical styling here. There is a really cool, swing styled instrumental piece in the middle of the song.
Heartfelt and somewhat aching vocals by Jane Monheit can be heard in the sad ballad Heart On Fire, which is also the title track of the album.
Patrick Tuzzolino makes his third, and final appearance, on the album with the song Angel. It’s a toe-tapping little ditty about never giving up on finding the right woman. There is some cool horn music and a bit of slick harmonizing.
The Duke is the ninth song on the album. It is a wonderful instrumental with terrific sax that Alex wrote as a tribute to Duke Ellington.
Jane Monheit makes a final appearance in Sunday Blues. It has some tough, classic jazz styling with horns, piano and a bit of banjo rounding things out. At times sultry, Jane provides great vocals on the song.
The final song on the album is Manhattan. It is a fun tune reminiscent of the women vocal groups of the 30’s and ‘40’s like the Andrew Sisters. The song features Glynis Lefore once again. She is joined by Octavia Pace and Princess Fortier. Octavia is a featured vocalist at many clubs in the SoCal area. Princess is a sought after model as well as a vocalist.
Like I said at the first, I really like the jazz of the early 20 th century. Sasha’s Bloc definitely transports the listener back to those days. Not only did Alex write great songs, the artists making up the collective give the music just the right touch. And the guest vocalists certainly enhance the listening experience.
As I mentioned earlier, Heart On Fire is set to be released on March 17 th , 2015. There will three release parties for the album that week in the L.A. area.
To find out more about Sasha’s Bloc and to hear songs from the Heart on Fire album, visit http://sashasbloc.com/