By | Published October 2022
Onyx crops up quite a bit in the book of Exodus, inscribed with the names of the children of Israel. Maybe Sasha Berliner is thinking more of chalcedony’s banded, layered appearance, which also works for this impressive music, but it also conveys a combined sense of restless search and rootedness. The leader’s harmonic imagination is subtly rooted in jazz tradition, but she gives ample notice of not being content to just camp out there. Two versions of “My Funny Valentine,” which is as canonical a standard as they come, suggest strongly that she’s always going to push the boundaries.
That’s evident right from the opening of “Jade,” which builds over a clattering beat and gently futurist sounds. Berliner isn’t strongly established until nearly two minutes in, leaving the foreground to a deceptively relaxed Jaleel Shaw line, but as soon as she starts to play, it’s obvious that she’s been guiding things from the first soft vibes chime. She doesn’t sound much like any of the obvious ancestors on the instrument, though you’d bet on her knowing Bobby Hutcherson’s book pretty well.
“Polaris” repeats the trick of having a percussion line that seems faster and more urgent than the melody requires, but that’s one of Berliner’s great strengths, allowing separate meters and time-feels to work together. “Ephemerality” could be the closest she comes to Hutcherson’s approach, especially his work on Eric Dolphy’s iconic Out To Lunch!, but throughout the set she plays for the group and deploys her guests where they’re musically relevant, rather than as an all-in, booked-them-have-to-use-them way.
Onyx: Jade; Crescent Park (In Elliptical Time); Polaris; Ephemerality; My Funny Valentine I; My Funny Valentine II; NW; Boom’s Epilogue. (64:00)
Personnel: Sasha Berliner, vibraphone; Jaleel Shaw, alto saxophone; James Francies, piano, Fender Rhodes; Julius Rodriguez, synthesizers (2, 4); Burniss Travis II, bass, electric bass; Marcus Gilmore, drums; Thana Alexa, vocal (2).
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