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Sasha Masakowski and Musical Playground: Wishes

Dan Bilawsky By

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Growing up in the Big Easy can be a blessing or a burden. The musical streets of New Orleans were paved with the glorious sounds of Louis Armstrong and Sidney Bechet, second line parades, and brass bands galore, making it a heavenly place for those wishing to soak their ears in the sounds of jazz from long ago, but that might not be the path for everybody nurtured in good old NOLA. Some artists want to reach beyond the confines of the Crescent City, to create sounds of a worldly nature that speak to a younger generation of music lovers, and vocalist Sasha Masakowski is one such individual.

Masakowski's marvelous voice, which bears a slight resemblance to that of ultra-hip, pop chanteuse Regina Spektor, can be sly, sexy, exotic and arresting, as she works her way through an incredibly diverse array of music that crosses cultural and stylistic lines in interesting ways. Dark, Brazilian music that hints at an appreciation of electronica ("Canto De Ossanha") sidles up next to glossy, R&B-influenced pop ("Yours: A Love/Hate Letter To My Hometown"), and a scaled down, acoustic exploration of Giuseppe Verdi's music ("Tacea La Notta Placida") follows on the heels of a Seu Jorge-influenced take on David Bowie's "Life On Mars," which serves as a salute to the soundtrack of The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou (2004), and Bowie himself.

Masakowski makes it known that her brand of New Orleans music is more pop than "Pops," but that doesn't mean she refuses to tip her hat to the great Louis Armstrong or the city that spawned them both. With "St. James Infirmary"—and Ellis Marsalis' "Syndrome"—Masakowski makes a statement that she'll give a nod to NOLA, but only on her own terms. Portishead-worthy snare drum grooves and ominous sounds underscore Masakowski's odd-metered take on "St. James Infirmary," while "Syndrome" is reborn with a drum 'n' bass-derived beat at the bottom.

Masakowski's voice is always at the center of all the action, but the man pulling the strings is James Westfall. As the producer of the album, and arranger of a good amount of the material, Westfall is responsible for many of the forward-looking sounds and ideas that crop up throughout the record. As the pianist in the band, he provides the improvisational content contained within some of these songs. Westfall wears many hats here, but he wears them all well, making him an equally stylish counterpart to Masakowski.

While no single song or style can sum up the sound of Sasha Masakowski, one of the defining moments occurs when Masakowski sings, "now when I die, please lay my body in Versace from head to toe," during "St. James Infirmary." With this one line, the young singer makes it clear that this is high-fashion music that lives beyond the borders of The Big Easy.

Track Listing: Wishes; Syndrome; Canto Do Ossanha; Yours: A Love/Hate Letter To My Hometown; Theme For Falling Leaves; St. James Infirmary; Colossus; Life On Mars; Tacea La Notte Placida; Manha De Carnaval; E Preciso Perdoar; Pieces Of You.

Personnel: Sasha Masakowski: vocals; James Westfall: Fender Rhodes, piano, marimba; Jasen Weaver: bass; Julian Addison: drums; Nick Skolnick: percussion; Steve Masakowski: guitar (5, 9).

Title: Wishes | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Hypersoul

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