Sep 7, 2022
After an impressive foray on her debut album, Azalea, rising star vibraphonist Sasha Berliner has followed up with a vigorous, unabashedly avant-garde sophomore recording, Onyx on JMI Recording. Her band is packed with familiar names who happen to be fellow students and friends of Sasha’s, including Marcus Gilmore on drums, Burniss Travis II on upright and electric bass and James Francies on piano and Fender Rhodes. Special guests include Jaleel Shaw on alto saxophone, Julius Rodriguez on analog synths and vocalist Thana Alexa.
The album has a dense, shaded sound, creating soundscapes that serve as strong backing for Sasha’s nimble mallet work. If at times melodies seem fleeting, each accompaniment imposes an array of feelings that serves the music and the musicians well. Perhaps the most resonant example of abandoning jazz tradition is presented in Berliner’s two-part arrangement of the standard “My Funny Valentine.” Propelled by her entrancing solo on the first, listeners ride through a forlorn, dreamlike exploration, waking up in a vibrant Part II where a brash and swift conversation between the band ensues.
A Bay Area native, Sasha was the 2020 Downbeat Critics’ Poll winner of the “Rising Star - Vibraphone” category, becoming both the first woman, and at 21, was the youngest individual in the poll’s history to be granted the win. Sasha graduated from The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music with her Bachelor's degree in Jazz Vibraphone Performance and a minor in Non Fiction writing from the adjacent Eugene Lang College of Liberal Arts.Since then it’s been onward and upward, not just with her own bands, but working with her friends and established stars like Christian McBride and Tyshawn Sorey.
Podcast 931 is my in-depth conversation with Sasha Berliner, as she delves into the songs on Onyx and talks about her transition from drums to vibes in her teens. Musical selections include “Jade” and “Polaris.”