Astral Project | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Astral Project

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For the last 30 years or so modern jazz hasn't had much of a presence in New Orleans; the prevailing voices of Dixieland, zydeco, and the Marsalises have drowned out what little progressive music there was. But Astral Project, a quartet (originally a quintet) of the Crescent City's best modern jazz players, bucks the trend. Even before they formed the band in 1978, these guys were showing up in the rhythm section or as guest soloists on virtually every progressive date down in the bayou, and the Project's front men, saxist Tony Dagradi and guitarist Steve Masakowski, put out several strong albums under their own names. Puzzlingly, these players together just sounded like an amazingly overqualified bar band, switching styles with the proficiency of shoplifters without assimilating them into an original sound. Last year's self-produced bonanza, Big Shot, changed all that. Astral Project seems to have blossomed following the departure of pianist David Torkanowsky; perhaps when he left the band in 2001 this simply reduced the number of forceful personalities pulling at the band's center. Whatever the reason, Big Shot has a startling clarity, with clean lines and bright texturing; there's a distinctive group aesthetic here, which brings all the material under one tent, from postfunk rooted in second-line rhythms ("X-Ray Vision," "Big Shot") to a latter-day lament that references the N'Awlins funerals of old. Masakowski's solos swivel and soar, and Dagradi counters with earthy yet visionary statements; and as you might expect after all these years, bassist James Singleton and drummer John Vidacovich lock so easily into their rhythms it's as if they're taking each other's pulse. Friday, March 28, 9 PM, and Saturday, March 29, 8 PM, Green Mill, 4802 N. Broadway; 773-878-5552.

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