Astral Project
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Astral Project

New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

New Orleans, Louisiana, United States
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Apr
29
Astral Project @ New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Apr
03
Astral Project @ Snug Harbor

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Mar
02
Astral Project @ Snug Harbor

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

Feb
06
Astral Project @ Snug Harbor

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

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Drummer John Vidacovich and bassist James Singleton are Jazz Fest vets. They played at the first one in 1970 (with the blind R&B singer Snooks Eaglin) and were back this year in their long-running modern-jazz quartet Astral Project with saxophonist Tony Dagradi and guitarist Steve Masakowski. But the hot set I got was at the Louisiana Music Factory (local-music experts and one of our nation’s great record stores) to promote a fine new album, Blue Streak (Astral Project). It was a special gas to see the group in such tight focus. Vidacovich and Singleton popped and weaved with spidery elasticity and rifle-shot second-line rolls. Dagradi’s knotty, charging “Blue Streak” and Masakowski’s “North Wind” epitomized the group’s unique resolution of earthy and airy — an ECM-style grace with New Orleans humidity that comes with the album too. - Rolling Stone - Fricke's Picks


Drummer John Vidacovich and bassist James Singleton are Jazz Fest vets. They played at the first one in 1970 (with the blind R&B singer Snooks Eaglin) and were back this year in their long-running modern-jazz quartet Astral Project with saxophonist Tony Dagradi and guitarist Steve Masakowski. But the hot set I got was at the Louisiana Music Factory (local-music experts and one of our nation’s great record stores) to promote a fine new album, Blue Streak (Astral Project). It was a special gas to see the group in such tight focus. Vidacovich and Singleton popped and weaved with spidery elasticity and rifle-shot second-line rolls. Dagradi’s knotty, charging “Blue Streak” and Masakowski’s “North Wind” epitomized the group’s unique resolution of earthy and airy — an ECM-style grace with New Orleans humidity that comes with the album too. - Rolling Stone - Fricke's Picks


I know I heard the New Orleans-based Astral Project some years ago when the Dakota Jazz Club was still in St. Paul’s Bandana Square. I know I did not make their last gig or two at the Minneapolis venue. What I really don’t know is why I was not blown away the first time I heard them. Their first visit to the Artists Quarter in downtown St. Paul last weekend prompted me to listen to Blue Streak, their 2008 release. At its core are seven tunes that leader/ saxophonist Tony Dagradi wrote as a suite in tribute to Katrina (“Cobalt Dreams”). Apparently when the band performed the suite live, they added a few other original tunes from guitarist Steve Masakowski and bassist James Singleton, and in the recording studio, they similarly expanded on Dagradi’s set. It’s a varied, sometimes swinging, sometimes harrowing, always virtuosic recording. And not like much of the music of long-time New Orleans musicians, although in some respects Astral Project reminded me of another Crescent City favorite, Branford Marsalis and his Quartet.

At the AQ, they drew some of the first set from Blue Streak as well as some ncompositions. It was one of the most memorable ensemble collaborations I’ve heard recently. Three of the musicians have been together for over 30 years (Masakowski is the newcomer with only a 20-year tenure); their communication is invisible and instantaneous. They can be bluesy and soulful as on Dagradi’s salute to “Cannonball” Adderley, elegantly balladic on some new unnamed material, and truly avant, with Dagradi executing Tim Berne-ish calisthenics suggesting a futuristic snake charBassist Singleton contorts his entire body in creating a menagerie of sounds not necessarily within the usual realm of acoustic bass, at one time like an out-of-tune banjo, on another jaunt combining hand slapping and symphonic bowing, somewhere slipping in some intriguing loops. Masakowski tends to play the straight man, little to be read from his facial expressions yet plenty of emoting from his guitar.

But it is drummer John Vidacovich who is truly mesmerizing, visually as well as aurally. The music is a physical extension of the musician; he is a slinky turned loose on the trapset, his long, thin lines extending and contracting, arms like ribbons of water that flow and ebb, his facial expressions mirroring the percussive questions and answers. Like a taller, older Ari Hoenig, his movements are angular yet simultaneously graceful, and prone to sudden shifts in direction, like the fickle breeze ahead of a cold front.

The concept of “astral projection” suggests out-of-body experiences. Playing here on Earth, Astral Project certainly delivered an out of the ordinary experience that stretched the universe of our mere mortal ears, and delightfully so.

This review originally posted on Andrea Canter’s blog at www.jazzink.blogspot.com
- Andrea Canter: www.jazzink.blogspot.com


I know I heard the New Orleans-based Astral Project some years ago when the Dakota Jazz Club was still in St. Paul’s Bandana Square. I know I did not make their last gig or two at the Minneapolis venue. What I really don’t know is why I was not blown away the first time I heard them. Their first visit to the Artists Quarter in downtown St. Paul last weekend prompted me to listen to Blue Streak, their 2008 release. At its core are seven tunes that leader/ saxophonist Tony Dagradi wrote as a suite in tribute to Katrina (“Cobalt Dreams”). Apparently when the band performed the suite live, they added a few other original tunes from guitarist Steve Masakowski and bassist James Singleton, and in the recording studio, they similarly expanded on Dagradi’s set. It’s a varied, sometimes swinging, sometimes harrowing, always virtuosic recording. And not like much of the music of long-time New Orleans musicians, although in some respects Astral Project reminded me of another Crescent City favorite, Branford Marsalis and his Quartet.

At the AQ, they drew some of the first set from Blue Streak as well as some ncompositions. It was one of the most memorable ensemble collaborations I’ve heard recently. Three of the musicians have been together for over 30 years (Masakowski is the newcomer with only a 20-year tenure); their communication is invisible and instantaneous. They can be bluesy and soulful as on Dagradi’s salute to “Cannonball” Adderley, elegantly balladic on some new unnamed material, and truly avant, with Dagradi executing Tim Berne-ish calisthenics suggesting a futuristic snake charBassist Singleton contorts his entire body in creating a menagerie of sounds not necessarily within the usual realm of acoustic bass, at one time like an out-of-tune banjo, on another jaunt combining hand slapping and symphonic bowing, somewhere slipping in some intriguing loops. Masakowski tends to play the straight man, little to be read from his facial expressions yet plenty of emoting from his guitar.

But it is drummer John Vidacovich who is truly mesmerizing, visually as well as aurally. The music is a physical extension of the musician; he is a slinky turned loose on the trapset, his long, thin lines extending and contracting, arms like ribbons of water that flow and ebb, his facial expressions mirroring the percussive questions and answers. Like a taller, older Ari Hoenig, his movements are angular yet simultaneously graceful, and prone to sudden shifts in direction, like the fickle breeze ahead of a cold front.

The concept of “astral projection” suggests out-of-body experiences. Playing here on Earth, Astral Project certainly delivered an out of the ordinary experience that stretched the universe of our mere mortal ears, and delightfully so.

This review originally posted on Andrea Canter’s blog at www.jazzink.blogspot.com
- Andrea Canter: www.jazzink.blogspot.com


Astral Project is often called the best contemporary jazz band in New Orleans, with good reason. They play with the cohesion of a band that’s been together for decades, and the passion of youngsters. Their music is at times outside, inside, funkified, and even a bit sanctified.

Tony Dagradi is the leader of the group. Playing a number of saxophones, he can surprise a jaded listener by taking the soprano sax places smooth jazzers have never dreamed about.

I had a chance to talk with Dagradi by phone from his New Orleans home, shortly before the group left for its September tour of the Midwest.

LE: You’ve been together, what, 30 years?

TD (Laughing): We started when we were in kindergarten.

LE: Are you all natives of New Orleans?

TD: Johnny Vidacovich and Steve Masakowski, the drummer and guitarist are native. James Singleton and I both arrived in New Orleans around 1977. I don’t know how long you have to be here to be a native.

LE: It sounds like you’re a native now.

TD: Yeah. You get involved in the scene and you’re part of the community, ultimately.

LE: What brought the four of you together?

TD: It was mostly my concept. When I arrived in New Orleans, I had been playing with a great group I had in Boston called Inner Visions. I wanted to have a group, someplace where I could do whatever I wanted. After I was in New Orleans awhile I scoped out the local artists and there were many. I just brought people together that I thought would be a good combination.

LE: Did you move to New Orleans specifically to start a different kind of group?

TD: No. Actually, that wasn’t why I moved here. It was just something I had to do while I was here. I moved to New Orleans because I didn’t want to go back to Boston and actually I only intended to check it out and stay for a short time myself. But… the music scene is so vibrant and so incredible that I just kept staying and staying.

LE: When you brought the other members of the group together, what was your concept?

TD: l had in mind to do something a little more electronic, with electric keyboards, and an electric bass, because this was 1978. I was thinking about Miles. I was thinking about Weather Report. But the more we played it became apparent that our backgrounds and hearts were really in acoustic and very interactive music. So it started out from that fusion place but ultimately went to very acoustic jazz and very interactive music.

LE: It seems you depend a lot on individual contributions from each of the band members for your repertoire.

TD: Absolutely. Everybody writes. I probably bring in about 50% of what we do, Steve writes a lot. Steve Masakowski is a great, great composer. James is a unique composer. Johnny writes probably the least, but when he brings in something, it’s great.

LE: is there any other way the band has evolved over the 30 years you’ve been together?

TD: It’s subtle. From an instrumental and orchestration standpoint, initially we started out with keyboards, bass, drums, sax, and we had a percussionist. As things moved forward in time the percussionist, Marc Sanders, moved to New York. So we were a quartet for a moment and then we added Steve. Steve is the junior member, he’s only been here 20-something years. David Torkanowsky was the pianist, and it turned out that he just got busier and busier doing other stuff, involved in studio work, so when we would go out on tour it would be a conflict. Ultimately we said let’s lose the keyboard and keep it lean and mean as a quartet. That’s the way I’ve liked it the best so far.

LE: You do a lot of the writing and get writing from other members of the band. When you bring in a song, or Johnny does, or Steve does, how do you go about arranging the song?

TD: We rehearse very infrequently, but when we do what happens is someone brings in their music and they have a good idea of what they want. But… everybody looks at the music and decides, or takes a little liberty with it and develops his own part. That sometimes involves the actual arrangement, like “Let’s loose the interlude, or only do the interlude in one place.” So the arrangement itself evolves a little bit at the rehearsal, but then a lot on the bandstand.

LE: Obviously after so much time together you can read each other well. You don’t have to look at each other and say "I’m going to take a chorus now."

TD: If you talk to John Vidacovich, he’ll tell you he just watches people’s body language. He knows when somebody is going to take that next chorus or not. That’s the way he plays. He watches people and looks to help shape the individual solos by his support. He’s watching body language, listening to what’s happening. There’s a lot of trust and a lot of things have evolved, so that we do know each other’s playing pretty well.

LE: Individually, you have all played with some of the giants of New Orleans music. What did you learn from that?

TD: New Orleans is the most important city - Larry Englund: "Rhythm and Grooves" for KFAI, Radio Without Boundaries.


Astral Project is often called the best contemporary jazz band in New Orleans, with good reason. They play with the cohesion of a band that’s been together for decades, and the passion of youngsters. Their music is at times outside, inside, funkified, and even a bit sanctified.

Tony Dagradi is the leader of the group. Playing a number of saxophones, he can surprise a jaded listener by taking the soprano sax places smooth jazzers have never dreamed about.

I had a chance to talk with Dagradi by phone from his New Orleans home, shortly before the group left for its September tour of the Midwest.

LE: You’ve been together, what, 30 years?

TD (Laughing): We started when we were in kindergarten.

LE: Are you all natives of New Orleans?

TD: Johnny Vidacovich and Steve Masakowski, the drummer and guitarist are native. James Singleton and I both arrived in New Orleans around 1977. I don’t know how long you have to be here to be a native.

LE: It sounds like you’re a native now.

TD: Yeah. You get involved in the scene and you’re part of the community, ultimately.

LE: What brought the four of you together?

TD: It was mostly my concept. When I arrived in New Orleans, I had been playing with a great group I had in Boston called Inner Visions. I wanted to have a group, someplace where I could do whatever I wanted. After I was in New Orleans awhile I scoped out the local artists and there were many. I just brought people together that I thought would be a good combination.

LE: Did you move to New Orleans specifically to start a different kind of group?

TD: No. Actually, that wasn’t why I moved here. It was just something I had to do while I was here. I moved to New Orleans because I didn’t want to go back to Boston and actually I only intended to check it out and stay for a short time myself. But… the music scene is so vibrant and so incredible that I just kept staying and staying.

LE: When you brought the other members of the group together, what was your concept?

TD: l had in mind to do something a little more electronic, with electric keyboards, and an electric bass, because this was 1978. I was thinking about Miles. I was thinking about Weather Report. But the more we played it became apparent that our backgrounds and hearts were really in acoustic and very interactive music. So it started out from that fusion place but ultimately went to very acoustic jazz and very interactive music.

LE: It seems you depend a lot on individual contributions from each of the band members for your repertoire.

TD: Absolutely. Everybody writes. I probably bring in about 50% of what we do, Steve writes a lot. Steve Masakowski is a great, great composer. James is a unique composer. Johnny writes probably the least, but when he brings in something, it’s great.

LE: is there any other way the band has evolved over the 30 years you’ve been together?

TD: It’s subtle. From an instrumental and orchestration standpoint, initially we started out with keyboards, bass, drums, sax, and we had a percussionist. As things moved forward in time the percussionist, Marc Sanders, moved to New York. So we were a quartet for a moment and then we added Steve. Steve is the junior member, he’s only been here 20-something years. David Torkanowsky was the pianist, and it turned out that he just got busier and busier doing other stuff, involved in studio work, so when we would go out on tour it would be a conflict. Ultimately we said let’s lose the keyboard and keep it lean and mean as a quartet. That’s the way I’ve liked it the best so far.

LE: You do a lot of the writing and get writing from other members of the band. When you bring in a song, or Johnny does, or Steve does, how do you go about arranging the song?

TD: We rehearse very infrequently, but when we do what happens is someone brings in their music and they have a good idea of what they want. But… everybody looks at the music and decides, or takes a little liberty with it and develops his own part. That sometimes involves the actual arrangement, like “Let’s loose the interlude, or only do the interlude in one place.” So the arrangement itself evolves a little bit at the rehearsal, but then a lot on the bandstand.

LE: Obviously after so much time together you can read each other well. You don’t have to look at each other and say "I’m going to take a chorus now."

TD: If you talk to John Vidacovich, he’ll tell you he just watches people’s body language. He knows when somebody is going to take that next chorus or not. That’s the way he plays. He watches people and looks to help shape the individual solos by his support. He’s watching body language, listening to what’s happening. There’s a lot of trust and a lot of things have evolved, so that we do know each other’s playing pretty well.

LE: Individually, you have all played with some of the giants of New Orleans music. What did you learn from that?

TD: New Orleans is the most important city - Larry Englund: "Rhythm and Grooves" for KFAI, Radio Without Boundaries.


One could excuse the members of Astral Project if they get a little weepy and sentimental at their annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival gig. After all, this was there they debuted as a band in 1978, and every year since, without fail, they have improvised before increasingly larger and more receptive crowds at their hometown¹s musical blowout.

But they don¹t get sentimental. They just play. And at their 2002 JazzFest show in April, saxophonist Tony Dagradi, guitarist Steve Masakowski, bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich played with jubilant intensity. This proved to be a significant show: it was their first appearance at the fest as a quartet. Gone was pianist David Torkanowsky, whose relationship with the band came to an end last May. Since Torkanowsky¹s departure, the band has recorded a new album, Big Shot (released on their own label and available on AstralProject.com), which layers sometimes infectious, sometimes gorgeous melodies above vicious, New Orleans-rooted beats. Without piano in the mix, the groove flows deep on Big Shot, and this runs over in the group¹s live show.

Down Beat caught up with the band in their trailer backstage at the Jazz Tent after their spirited show.

What¹s the anticipation like before playing this gig?

SINGLETON: I used to get nervous. But now it¹s just another hit.
DAGRADI: It felt like being at home today, playing with your friends.
SINGLETON: I was here yesterday, and I was hanging out all day today. Everywhere I walk I run into people for whom I¹ve been playing for 25 years. It really is familiar and comfortable.
MASAKOWSKI: Kind of like playing for family, but the family keeps growing.

Obviously, this is a special gig.

MASAKOWSKI: Every gig is special. But you know, this is just a great time of year to be in New Orleans, the food, the people. It¹s a great hang. It¹s special for us. We can drive to the gig.

Do you feel a renewed intensity to your playing?

MASAKOWSKI: Sure. We feel a boost after changing our format after 24 years. We¹ve now been a quartet for almost a year, since last May. We¹ve done a couple of tours, and we definitely feel more space, we¹re taking more risks.

The band now sounds more rhythmic.

MASAKOWSKI: There¹s more space for each one of us to play in, so we take advantage of it. Especially for me, it frees me up, but there¹s also a lot more responsibility, as I have to fill things in. I like that, because sometimes combining a piano player with a guitarist can be like oil and water. I¹ve been playing guitar trio a lot, so this feels really natural when it comes to soloing, or when we solo together.
SINGLETON: Johnny¹s such an orchestrator. Sometimes it¹s fun to play even less and watch him or Steve fill in than do more. It an go either way.
MASAKOWSKI: We try every time we play to reinvent what we do. We play a lot of the tunes that are on the record, but when we play live we always inject something different. We¹re constantly writing new tunes. We need to keep it fresh for ourselves. Every night, we strive to outdo what we did the night before.

The songs in your set today almost all came from the new album. You¹re obviously excited about the material that you put together for Big Shot.

SINGLETON: We toured extensively before we made this disc. We went to Europe for 10 days, we did the Midwest for 10 days. The tunes had been around for more than a year before they were recorded.
MASAKOWSKI: This is a special thing about this album, at least for me. Astral Project has always been considered a New Orleans band. This is our first record that takes advantage of the New Orleans sound, of that music that¹s around us in this city. It¹s really a New Orleans record. That¹s what we¹ve always been about. And this album really demonstrates that. For instance, a song like ³Big Shot² has that parade feel.

And the songs have passion and intensity. It came across really well on the ballad you played, ³Hymn.²

SINGLETON: It¹s easier right now. We¹re just cooperative, the four of us.
MASAKOWSKI: We¹re at the point now where we don¹t have to prove anything. We can just relax and enjoy playing with each other. That¹s what music is supposed to be about. - Down Beat - Jason Koransky, July 2002


One could excuse the members of Astral Project if they get a little weepy and sentimental at their annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival gig. After all, this was there they debuted as a band in 1978, and every year since, without fail, they have improvised before increasingly larger and more receptive crowds at their hometown¹s musical blowout.

But they don¹t get sentimental. They just play. And at their 2002 JazzFest show in April, saxophonist Tony Dagradi, guitarist Steve Masakowski, bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich played with jubilant intensity. This proved to be a significant show: it was their first appearance at the fest as a quartet. Gone was pianist David Torkanowsky, whose relationship with the band came to an end last May. Since Torkanowsky¹s departure, the band has recorded a new album, Big Shot (released on their own label and available on AstralProject.com), which layers sometimes infectious, sometimes gorgeous melodies above vicious, New Orleans-rooted beats. Without piano in the mix, the groove flows deep on Big Shot, and this runs over in the group¹s live show.

Down Beat caught up with the band in their trailer backstage at the Jazz Tent after their spirited show.

What¹s the anticipation like before playing this gig?

SINGLETON: I used to get nervous. But now it¹s just another hit.
DAGRADI: It felt like being at home today, playing with your friends.
SINGLETON: I was here yesterday, and I was hanging out all day today. Everywhere I walk I run into people for whom I¹ve been playing for 25 years. It really is familiar and comfortable.
MASAKOWSKI: Kind of like playing for family, but the family keeps growing.

Obviously, this is a special gig.

MASAKOWSKI: Every gig is special. But you know, this is just a great time of year to be in New Orleans, the food, the people. It¹s a great hang. It¹s special for us. We can drive to the gig.

Do you feel a renewed intensity to your playing?

MASAKOWSKI: Sure. We feel a boost after changing our format after 24 years. We¹ve now been a quartet for almost a year, since last May. We¹ve done a couple of tours, and we definitely feel more space, we¹re taking more risks.

The band now sounds more rhythmic.

MASAKOWSKI: There¹s more space for each one of us to play in, so we take advantage of it. Especially for me, it frees me up, but there¹s also a lot more responsibility, as I have to fill things in. I like that, because sometimes combining a piano player with a guitarist can be like oil and water. I¹ve been playing guitar trio a lot, so this feels really natural when it comes to soloing, or when we solo together.
SINGLETON: Johnny¹s such an orchestrator. Sometimes it¹s fun to play even less and watch him or Steve fill in than do more. It an go either way.
MASAKOWSKI: We try every time we play to reinvent what we do. We play a lot of the tunes that are on the record, but when we play live we always inject something different. We¹re constantly writing new tunes. We need to keep it fresh for ourselves. Every night, we strive to outdo what we did the night before.

The songs in your set today almost all came from the new album. You¹re obviously excited about the material that you put together for Big Shot.

SINGLETON: We toured extensively before we made this disc. We went to Europe for 10 days, we did the Midwest for 10 days. The tunes had been around for more than a year before they were recorded.
MASAKOWSKI: This is a special thing about this album, at least for me. Astral Project has always been considered a New Orleans band. This is our first record that takes advantage of the New Orleans sound, of that music that¹s around us in this city. It¹s really a New Orleans record. That¹s what we¹ve always been about. And this album really demonstrates that. For instance, a song like ³Big Shot² has that parade feel.

And the songs have passion and intensity. It came across really well on the ballad you played, ³Hymn.²

SINGLETON: It¹s easier right now. We¹re just cooperative, the four of us.
MASAKOWSKI: We¹re at the point now where we don¹t have to prove anything. We can just relax and enjoy playing with each other. That¹s what music is supposed to be about. - Down Beat - Jason Koransky, July 2002


It’s been exactly two years since Astral Project’s last release, Big Shot, which hit the racks just in time for Jazz Fest 2002. Though it somehow seems longer than that, the turnaround is pretty quick for a group that has only put out five albums in its notable 26 years of existence. These diversely involved players-saxophonist Ton Dagradi, guitarist Steve Masakowski, bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich-direct their creativity to may fronts as educators and leaders and sidemen in various project. In reality, Astral Project could certainly be deemed an all-star band that greatly benefits from the rarity of a long, satisfying history. The results, as heard on The Legend of Cowboy Bill, is the unique quality of an identifiable group sound that also regales in the distinctive voices of each of its hugely talented musicians. Completely immersed in the ideals of complimenting Dagradi’s free-ranging solo on Masakowski’s “Open Space,” Vidacovich nonetheless remains totally unmistakable. Singleton opens his “Cowboy Bill” with his bass suggesting the clop of a hors. Its melodic dash of yippee-i-o-ki-yea is humorously reinforced with some honkin’ sax from the oft more eloquent Dagradi. The change up works on this fun cut. The “Peter Gunn” start of “Second Thoughts” puts a smile on a tune that dances near a rollin’ second line and brushes the feathers of the Mardi Gras Indians. The title of Vidacovich’s contribution, “Saint Paul,” might imply a quiet spiritual selection. The tune, which we presume is a tribute to one of the drummer’s heroes, Paul Motian, actually takes a different devotional route heading outside to open waters. The freedom feels good while the return trip to the brightness of “Nowhere to hide” with its wonderfully beboppin’ tone, swinging feel and staggered rhythms is equally refreshing. The Legend of Cowboy Bill is a rich tale with lots of twisting plots and no dull moments. - Offbeat Magazine - Geraldine Wykoff, May 2004


It’s been exactly two years since Astral Project’s last release, Big Shot, which hit the racks just in time for Jazz Fest 2002. Though it somehow seems longer than that, the turnaround is pretty quick for a group that has only put out five albums in its notable 26 years of existence. These diversely involved players-saxophonist Ton Dagradi, guitarist Steve Masakowski, bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich-direct their creativity to may fronts as educators and leaders and sidemen in various project. In reality, Astral Project could certainly be deemed an all-star band that greatly benefits from the rarity of a long, satisfying history. The results, as heard on The Legend of Cowboy Bill, is the unique quality of an identifiable group sound that also regales in the distinctive voices of each of its hugely talented musicians. Completely immersed in the ideals of complimenting Dagradi’s free-ranging solo on Masakowski’s “Open Space,” Vidacovich nonetheless remains totally unmistakable. Singleton opens his “Cowboy Bill” with his bass suggesting the clop of a hors. Its melodic dash of yippee-i-o-ki-yea is humorously reinforced with some honkin’ sax from the oft more eloquent Dagradi. The change up works on this fun cut. The “Peter Gunn” start of “Second Thoughts” puts a smile on a tune that dances near a rollin’ second line and brushes the feathers of the Mardi Gras Indians. The title of Vidacovich’s contribution, “Saint Paul,” might imply a quiet spiritual selection. The tune, which we presume is a tribute to one of the drummer’s heroes, Paul Motian, actually takes a different devotional route heading outside to open waters. The freedom feels good while the return trip to the brightness of “Nowhere to hide” with its wonderfully beboppin’ tone, swinging feel and staggered rhythms is equally refreshing. The Legend of Cowboy Bill is a rich tale with lots of twisting plots and no dull moments. - Offbeat Magazine - Geraldine Wykoff, May 2004


“We don’t conform to any specific formula of what jazz might be,” said Astral Project guitarist Steve Masakowski. “It’s about our influences and where we wnat to go. We can go in rhythm and blues, funk, straightahead swing and serious jazz playing. We let it happen.”

If Masakowski’s description of his band emphasizes its freeflowing attitude, this year proves how Astral Project is anything but laid back. The New Orleans-based group is celebrating its 30th anniversary through a series of events that attest to the group’s tenacity.

Astral Project has put out a new CE, Blue Streak, on its own record label in commemoration of the milestone. They also held a 30th anniversary perfrmance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on April 26. Other plans include a couple of lat-smmer dates at New Orleans’ Snug Harbor. The band is also in the process of lining upa fall tour that will take it to Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and possibly the East Coast. The band is keeping the year-long celebration low, but they are happy to have survived three decades in the jazz world. Drummer Johnny Vidacovich said simply, “We’re just smiling.”

Started in 1978 by saxophonist Tony Dagradi, Astral Project’s personnel has been consistent with himself, bassist James Singleton, Vidacovich and junior member Masakowski (he’s been n the band for 25 years). Other members have included percussionist Marc Sanders and pianist David Torkanowsky.

Astral Project, in the words of bassist Singleton, “Started out grounded in ‘70s energy music. It was high energy, a lot of ostinato grooves and electric instruments. In the late ‘80s it went back to acoustic jazz and swing rhythms. It still contains all of these things. It became broader in scope.”

Even thought the music has changed it still has a strong relationship to the various sounds of New Orleans. “The music maintained the identity, one of the key characteristics is the folk influence of the rhythms that are indigenous of the that we line in,” Vidacovich said. “That’s how we’ve managed to play freaky music and have i have some hard relationships to something traditional. Even though it might sound to some people modern anfreaky, if you read in between the lines, it’s a traditional thing we’ve maintained, and it’s a natural thing. We don’t think about it.”

Surprisingly, it has not been difficult for the band to stay together despite the passage of time and other formidable challenges. “There is a lot of love on the bandstand,” Dagradi said. “We all get along.”

“The band is a home base,” Masakowski added. “We’re all friends and we all contribute to the development of the band, and it’s always refreshing to come back to. It’s like returning to family.”

Like all New Orleans families, Hurricane Katrina and its afrtermath impacted AStral Project - Singleton moved to Los Angeles afte the storm. This makes its anniversary that much more crucial accordint to Scott Aiges, who managed the band from 1998 to 2002, and curently is director of programs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation.

“The fact that these guys have managed to keep the band together, even with James having to fly in for gigs, is emblematic of the way we’ve all had to pull together and help one another through the rebuilding,” Aiges said. “To be able to seem them in concert, and have it sound just as good-or better-as it used to, is anohter one of those things that we cling to for a sense of normalcy.”

The band’s esthetic, longevity and sense of normacly has had a particular influence on the musicians who have come after the. Trombonist Jeff Albert, who curates the Open Ear creative music series in New Orleans and plays in Lucky 7, Magnetic Ear and the Naded Orchestra, first heard the band whte he wa a jazz studies major at Loyola Unioversity.

“They were jazz rockstars to us,” Albert said. “Their music grooves hard, but you never know where it is going to o. There is a real sense of adventure.”

Albert adds that the Astral Project members’ accessibility has helped make them mentors in his city.

“These guys were real peole,” Albert said. “You could go and talk t them after the gig. I remember going down JAckson Avenue one time and seeing Tony Dagradi picking up his kids from day care.”

- Down Beat - David Kunian, June 2008


“We don’t conform to any specific formula of what jazz might be,” said Astral Project guitarist Steve Masakowski. “It’s about our influences and where we wnat to go. We can go in rhythm and blues, funk, straightahead swing and serious jazz playing. We let it happen.”

If Masakowski’s description of his band emphasizes its freeflowing attitude, this year proves how Astral Project is anything but laid back. The New Orleans-based group is celebrating its 30th anniversary through a series of events that attest to the group’s tenacity.

Astral Project has put out a new CE, Blue Streak, on its own record label in commemoration of the milestone. They also held a 30th anniversary perfrmance at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival on April 26. Other plans include a couple of lat-smmer dates at New Orleans’ Snug Harbor. The band is also in the process of lining upa fall tour that will take it to Chicago, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and possibly the East Coast. The band is keeping the year-long celebration low, but they are happy to have survived three decades in the jazz world. Drummer Johnny Vidacovich said simply, “We’re just smiling.”

Started in 1978 by saxophonist Tony Dagradi, Astral Project’s personnel has been consistent with himself, bassist James Singleton, Vidacovich and junior member Masakowski (he’s been n the band for 25 years). Other members have included percussionist Marc Sanders and pianist David Torkanowsky.

Astral Project, in the words of bassist Singleton, “Started out grounded in ‘70s energy music. It was high energy, a lot of ostinato grooves and electric instruments. In the late ‘80s it went back to acoustic jazz and swing rhythms. It still contains all of these things. It became broader in scope.”

Even thought the music has changed it still has a strong relationship to the various sounds of New Orleans. “The music maintained the identity, one of the key characteristics is the folk influence of the rhythms that are indigenous of the that we line in,” Vidacovich said. “That’s how we’ve managed to play freaky music and have i have some hard relationships to something traditional. Even though it might sound to some people modern anfreaky, if you read in between the lines, it’s a traditional thing we’ve maintained, and it’s a natural thing. We don’t think about it.”

Surprisingly, it has not been difficult for the band to stay together despite the passage of time and other formidable challenges. “There is a lot of love on the bandstand,” Dagradi said. “We all get along.”

“The band is a home base,” Masakowski added. “We’re all friends and we all contribute to the development of the band, and it’s always refreshing to come back to. It’s like returning to family.”

Like all New Orleans families, Hurricane Katrina and its afrtermath impacted AStral Project - Singleton moved to Los Angeles afte the storm. This makes its anniversary that much more crucial accordint to Scott Aiges, who managed the band from 1998 to 2002, and curently is director of programs at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation.

“The fact that these guys have managed to keep the band together, even with James having to fly in for gigs, is emblematic of the way we’ve all had to pull together and help one another through the rebuilding,” Aiges said. “To be able to seem them in concert, and have it sound just as good-or better-as it used to, is anohter one of those things that we cling to for a sense of normalcy.”

The band’s esthetic, longevity and sense of normacly has had a particular influence on the musicians who have come after the. Trombonist Jeff Albert, who curates the Open Ear creative music series in New Orleans and plays in Lucky 7, Magnetic Ear and the Naded Orchestra, first heard the band whte he wa a jazz studies major at Loyola Unioversity.

“They were jazz rockstars to us,” Albert said. “Their music grooves hard, but you never know where it is going to o. There is a real sense of adventure.”

Albert adds that the Astral Project members’ accessibility has helped make them mentors in his city.

“These guys were real peole,” Albert said. “You could go and talk t them after the gig. I remember going down JAckson Avenue one time and seeing Tony Dagradi picking up his kids from day care.”

- Down Beat - David Kunian, June 2008


Discography

"Blue Streak" - 2008 APR
"Live In New Orleans" - APR 2006
"Cowboy Bill" - APR2004
"Big Shot" - APR2002
"Voodoo Bop" - Compass 7 4268 2
"Elevado" - AP-002
"Astral Project" - AP-001

Photos

Bio

Since 1978, Astral Project has been New Orleans’ most exciting, inventive and respected modern jazz group. Featuring Tony Dagradi on saxophones, Steve Masakowski on seven string guitar, James Singleton on bass and John Vidacovich on drums, Astral Project is a co-op band comprised of world-class improvisers, hailed by fans and critics around the world.

These veteran musicians, known as tops on their instruments in jazz-rich New Orleans, each with many album credits as leaders and sidemen, bring a wealth of diverse experience to the bandstand. True to the original spirit of jazz, Astral Project creates real tunes and memorable melodies while giving the musicians freedom to incorporate influences from a multitude of sources. The group shifts direction like a flock of birds in flight with an ease so uncanny it seems to verge on telepathy. It’s the kind of inspired art that can come only from special individuals who have spent decades improvising together.

www.astralproject.com

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“ECM-style grace with New Orleans humidity” - Rolling Stone

"One of the most distinctive and cohesive groups in jazz." - Downbeat

“A co-op band comprised of world class improvisers and composers... Astral Project has been New Orleans’ best kept secret for more than 20 years.” - Jazz Times

"The city’s premier modern jazz ensemble." - New Orleans Times Picayune

"The finest modern jazz ensemble in New Orleans, and undoubtedly one of the most unique jazz groups period." - Offbeat magazine

“New Orleans’ greatest contemporary jazz band...a lean tough, rhythmically unyielding approach to improvisation.” - Chicago Tribune

“Astral Project epitomizes the modern New Orleans jazz band...successful, independent and synthesizing the present and thick-as gumbo past of the city’s music. “ - capital Times, Madison, WI

”It’s tough to say that a contemporary jazz group is capable of doing just about anything, but in Astral Project’s case, it’s the truth” - Stamford Advocate.

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Tony Dagradi

Leading Astral Project is Tony Dagradi performing on both tenor and soprano saxophones. With his stunning technique and singular tone, he brings emotional urgency to each solo. Over the years he has appeared with many of New Orleans' most notable musicians, including Ellis Marsalis, James Black, Allen Toussaint, The Meters, Dr. John and Professor Longhair. In addition to his local activities, he has worked with Bobby McFerrin, Nat Adderley, Donald Byrd and Norman Connors. He also spent five years as featured soloist with the Carla Bley Band, during which time he toured Europe, Japan and North America. 

Steve Masakowski

Steve Masakowski has long been regarded as one of the most awe-inspiring guitarists and composers in contemporary music. He plays unique seven-string guitars of his own design that are hand-made by New Orleans luthier Sal Giardina. Steve is a major voice whose extraordinary musicality has been welcomed in concert with such jazz greats as Woody Shaw, Carl Fontana, Dave Liebman, Jimmy Smith, Sam Rivers and, most recently, Dianne Reeves, Bennie Wallace and Rick Margitza. Among the awards and honors that he has garnered are two National Endowment For The Arts fellowships, several grants from The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Foundation and one from the Louisiana Division of The Arts. James Singleton

James Singleton is a conduit of pure energy who, to a large degree, defines the sound of Astral Project. His solid rhythmic concept and harmonic sense are the foundation of this innovative group's improvisational strength. James has performed in concert with such modern jazz musicians as John Abercrombie, John Scofield, Art Baron, Ellis Marsalis, Earl Turbinton and Eddie Harris. He has appeared with swing and traditional greats Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown, Lionel Hampton, Arnette Cobb and Banu Gibson. His extensive recording credits include work with Chet Baker, Alvin "Red" Tyler, James Booker, Charlie Rich and Zachary Richard. 

John Vidacovich

In his very personal approach to percussion, master drummer John Vidacovich combines elements of New Orleans' traditional rhythms with free techniques and mainstream sensibilities. He is at once a brilliant soloist and a highly sensitive accompanist with the ability to detect and quickly enhance even the most subtle

Band Members