Astral Project | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Astral Project

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When the mainstream media focus on modern New Orleans jazz, they rarely see past the Marsalis clan and friends; this explains why you may never have run across the members of Astral Project--five of the Crescent City's best and most versatile players. The rhythm section has worked together for almost two decades, appearing on dozens of albums, and has attained a portable, instant swing that fits into (and ensures the success of) a variety of genres: John Vidacovich, the drummer, allows a shadow of classical New Orleans syncopation to creep across almost all of his rhythms from bebop to fusion, while bassist Jim Singleton drives the music without clutter, always playing a note or two less than you expect. Pianist Dave Torkanowsky--known these days for accompanying singer Dianne Reeves--leads this trio with the soul of a born session man and the solos of a well-practiced jazzer. Steve Masakowski's two Blue Note albums make him perhaps the best-known member of the quintet; he pays gratifying attention to the fine edges of his guitar tone as his improvisations spin deceptively simple, spellbinding stories. Saxist Tony Dagradi takes a contrasting approach, maintaining the blend of improvisational control and searching spiritualism that has marked his playing since the early 80s. All of these guys have worked together in the studio over the years, but as Astral Project they've made only one CD, a self-produced and self-titled collection recorded six years ago. At the time, they hadn't really settled on a clear direction: drawing on all that experience and versatility, they came up with an eclectic travelogue of their expertise, ranging from light Latin grooves to jazz classics to N'awlins struts to contemporary jazz-funk, sometimes making it sound a little too easy. But whether or not they've arrived at a more focused repertoire, their appearance here affords the chance to hear five excellent musicians who rarely leave the bayou for the lake. (The Sunday show opens at 7 with a potentially terrific quartet led by Juli Wood, featuring two saxes and organ.) Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. Sunday, 8 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.

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