One Track Mind: Sasha Masakowski, “Life on Mars” (2011)

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For a moment, all you hear is James Westfall, playing a plaintive shape on the piano. Then jazz singer Sasha Masakowski slips in behind him, performing in another tongue – sounding like a passing thought that brings you all the way out of a daydream.

From there, a harrumphing rhythm, courtesy of Musical Playground drummer Julian Addison and bassist Jasen Weaver, pushes the song into an almost uncomfortable place. Even without benefit of a translator, “Life on Mars” — one of several magical moments found on Masakowski’s new album Wishes, from New Orleans-based Hypersoul — takes on an accusatory tone, even as it wishes for so much more.

Originally composed and released by David Bowie in 1971 for the album Hunky Dory, the song famously featured a completely embellished guest turn on the piano by Rick Wakeman of Yes fame. Masakowski and Co. have accomplished something here that doesn’t recall that track so much as completely reimagine it.

About halfway in, Westfall abruptly changes direction, going from a meandering trickle to a forceful whoosh of purpose, even as Maskowski lets go: Her vocal, now wordless and so very emotional, moves above the swinging din like a slow rising cirrus cloud.

Produced by Westfall, and recorded at Axis Studios in New Orleans, Wishes also includes two cuts featuring her father Steve (guitarist with Astral Project), on his original “Theme for Falling Leaves” and a new arrangement of “Tacea la Notte Placida,” by Giuseppe Verdi. There are also three original compositions, including the title track and a tune co-written with Westfall. Masakowski adds lyrics to Ellis Marsalis’ “Syndrome” as well.

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Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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