Those who keep an eye on regional music scenes will instantly recognize the players in Astral Project: arguably the brightest and most versatile jazz modernists in New Orleans, they've popped up in varying combinations on a number of records made in and around the Crescent City (including Mose Allison's southern-roots date, My Backyard, a few years ago). Saxophonist Tony Dagradi got the most attention in the early years, recording a couple albums under his own name that emphasized his brocaded sound and Sufilike fervor; guitarist Steve Masakowski stepped toward the spotlight this decade with a pair of Blue Note dates, on which he minutely detailed his solos while maintaining a greater design and direction. Pianist David Torkanowsky is probably better known than either of them: he handles the musical chores for the cable-TV series The Big Easy. Add in longtime session mates Jim Singleton (a bassist of understated gifts) and John Vidacovich (a drummer with no discernible weakness in any context) and you have a band of unimpeachable regional all-stars. But Astral Project comes out less than the sum of its parts. The strong individual styles of its members tend to override any group personality that might develop; its new album, Elevado (on the band's own label), prances and struts, but never really sings. The smart, imaginative solos on a wide variety of compositions are more than enough to reel me in for a set--but not enough to keep me from wanting something more. Friday, 9 PM, and Saturday, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552. NEIL TESSER
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): uncredited photo.