Sasha Berliner: Onyx

New York vibist from the Bobby Hutcherson and Walt Dickerson school of subtle rescues My Funny Valentine from its dreary ballad stereotype


Born in San Francisco, Sasha Berliner is a vibes player currently based in New York. She released her debut album, Azalea, in 2019. This is my first exposure to her music and my initial impressions are highly favourable.

She takes a lead from the Hutcherson/Dickerson camp rather than the “on the beat” Hampton/Gibbs style and this means her approach is flexible. Her music often avoids the obvious and frequently leads the listener into quite stimulating areas.

For Onyx, Berliner convened a group of musicians who would bring their own personalities to the table. Saxophonist Shaw, who performs on five selections, in an impassioned addition and drummer Marcus Gilmore works out of the Paul Motian school.

The vibes do not always take the limelight but when they do the leader demands attention in her mixture of bold statements offset against more subtle, skittering runs. The tunes vary in rhythmic pulse (more often than not better described as momentum). This is no better illustrated than by the two versions of My Funny Valentine, the first warmly delivered by solo vibes, the second being a highly charged uptempo option which really shouldn’t work – but does!

The only annoying aspect about Onyx is half the numbers either end abruptly or in a fade, when perhaps logical conclusions would have enhanced the tunes even more.

(1) Jade; (2) Crescent Park (In Elliptical Time); (3) Polaris; Ephemerality; (4) My Funny Valentine I; (5) My Funny Valentine II: (3) NW; Boom’s Epilogue (35.10)
(1) Sasha Berliner (vib); James Francies (p, elp); Burniss Travis II (b, elb); Marcus Gilmore (d); Jaleel Shaw (as); Julius Rodriguez (syn); Thana Alexa (v). 2022. (2) as (1) but omit Shaw. (3) as (1) but omit Rodriguez and Alexa. (4) Berliner only. (5) as (1) but omit Shaw, Rodriguez and Alexa.
JMI Recordings