The ten piece jazz collective Sasha’s Bloc, augmented by bassist Alexander Gershman and a cadre of top shelf singers, scarcely needs much introduction at this point. This unique reminder of America’s musical past does more than work as a live action museum piece for upscale couples on a night out. Approximation comes easy to such talented musicians, but their recorded work so far reaches far beyond that and, instead, mixes American musical influences in such a fashion that their clear hope is adding some new and vital to the genre’s musical history. Sasha’s Bloc’s latest single “Runaway Blues” is, likewise, written and recorded with great intelligence and an eye towards appealing to the broadest possible audience. The recording of this new track afforded the band an opportunity to record in New York City’s legendary Capitol Records studios and, on first listen, it’s easy to imagine the band’s energy as an inspired response to such hollowed surroundings. It is that and so much more.
“Runaway Blues” deftly interweaves strands of blues, gospel, and jazz into a track of ideal length. The players get their chances to individually shine within the context of the song and the tightly constructed arrangement keeps the song’s path clearly defined from start to finish. The piano and occasional organ creeping into the song, along with the vibrant brass section, provides “Runaway Blues” with much of its color and these sonic elements evolve in different ways. The song begins life as a duet between gospel piano and Take 6 vocalist Alvin Chea, but the instrument soon lowers its profile and concentrates on providing a melodic foundation for the singing. It returns to the fore later in the song for some particularly inspired bluesy runs. The brass doesn’t enter into the song until it’s some ways in, but their introduction transforms the track and elevates it another few notches. The compositional method that Sasha’s Bloc uses to build the song is a neat bit of musical storytelling that complements the lyric and has an almost cinematic quality.
The quality is accentuated by the song’s introspective lyric. Chea makes the most of its excellence and completely finds his way inside of the regret and concern expressed in the lines. This isn’t some hackneyed expression set to stylish backing; the lyrical content is every bit as modulated as the musical accompaniment and never risks melodrama. The year will likely close with this still ranking among the best single releases on the 2016 indie scene thanks to its unique strengths and the unquestionable skill of its players. Sasha’s Bloc have worked hard to establish a name for themselves as the nation’s preeminent purveyors of a musical genre that’s far from ready for mothballs.
“Runaway Blues” doesn’t succeed because it’s a novelty number or draws any sort of special attention to itself. The song works because these are top flight arrangers, writers, and performers who bring genuine sophistication and distinction to any musical project they participate in. Sasha’s Bloc are on the top of their game and this is essential listening for any music fan.