After a move to New York, New Orleans artist Sasha Masakowski immersed herself in the city’s jazz scenes while constructing something of an alter ego, an electronic plunge “off the deep end,” she says.
Masakowski’s 2018 album Art Market, out now on Ropeadope Records, “feels like a little glimpse into where I am right now in my life,” she says. “I’ve definitely taken an interesting path, and I have so many influences, and I really wanted to do a record that paid homage to New Orleans and thanked New Orleans for shaping me so much.”
Art Market also offers a small window into her darker, more experimental electronic turn as Tra$h Magnolia (“there’s nothing jazz about it”), her vessel for a wealth of new ideas and inspirations, her evolution as a multifaceted artist whose voice has fronted classic jazz arrangements, art-pop bands and, now, a mold-breaking vision for herself.
“It feels really good to be independent, self-reliant, and to trust own your intuition, and also to not take yourself too seriously,” she says. “When I moved to New York, I felt like everyone takes themselves very seriously, which makes for very skilled musicians, but New Orleans teaches you to have fun and connect with people. That’s been a big lesson New Orleans has taught me that I didn’t realize until I left New Orleans.”
On Art Market, Masakowski transforms playful takes on “Iko Iko” and Bill Evans’ “Interplay,” which Masakowski builds with only her voice, playing with itself in cascading harmonies. She also performs two songs written by her father, guitarist Steve Masakowski — she leads “Entropy” and “Ascending Reverence” into blissed-out jazz centerpieces.
Her versatile voice guides a fluid transformation of New Orleans jazz into genre-spanning, disparate compositions textured with electronic pulses, bounce-inspired percussion and a vibrant palette of feedback loops, thick guitar slabs and acrobatic piano.
Masakowski added synthesizers and wrote arrangements and percussion programming on the album, which also includes contributions from pianist David Torkanowsky, guitarist Cliff Hines, synthesizers from Jason Lindner, drummer Peter Varnado and Simon Lott, bassist Martin Masakowski, saxophonist Jeronne Amari Ansari, and trombonist Colin Myers.
But Masakowski’s flexible, celestial-like instrument effortlessly moves among those sounds, as comfortable and cool leading a brassy ensemble as it is immersed in the dreamy layers of a St. Vincent cover.
“I wanted to do a record for singers like me who obviously have studied jazz and are versed in jazz but have other interests, and also to show the jazz world that it doesn’t have to look or sound work this one specific way," she says. "This is very much a jazz record. Purists would say it’s not. You just have to break the mold at some point. The artists succeeding in life are people who are being super true to themselves and not adhering to what ‘the industry’ thinks you should be or not be. I don’t got time for that.”
Though jazz cradles the album, it playfully veers into her takes on dark, late-night R&B (“Juicy Booty Song”) and climaxing art-pop (“Scary Monster Song”). On “The Bed,” a dramatic highlight from St. Vincent’s 2009 album Actor, Masakowski melts it into a near-lullaby, seemingly bound to drift into a dream.
“In performing [Art Market] live, I’ve had some shows that have been really great and I’ve had a few possible epic fails in jazz clubs because they’re like, ‘What?’ Maybe I’ll never get asked back there, but whatever,” she says, laughing. “I understand ‘play to the room’ and ‘know your audience’ but how long are you going to do that? At some point you have to say f— it and it’s OK that it’s not for everybody.”