Tony Dagradi - saxophones

John Vidacovich - drums

Herlin Riley - drums

Troy Davis - drums

With the release of “Gemini Rising,” Tony Dagradi offers up an engaging album in which he layers various saxophones to create dense textures and surprisingly robust arrangements.  In fact, the entire saxophone family, soprano, alto, tenor and baritone, is used by Tony to fashion all of the melodic and harmonic content; not to mention the intense soloing,  The only other element of orchestration is the addition of three of New Orleans’ finest drummers; John Vidacovich, Herlin Riley and Troy Davis. 

“Gemini Rising” features ten original compositions and a cover of Thelonious Monk’s rhapsodic “Monk’s Mood.”  About half of the tunes found here have never been recorded before.  The remaining numbers will be familiar to listeners who have followed Tony’s work with the eminent contemporary jazz quartet, Astral Project.  However, with the new perspective gained from a musical fabric made up entirely of saxophones and drums, all of the pieces sound revitalized and fresh.  

The tunes themselves cover a wide range of styles.  "The Wheel" and "Mandela" draw upon rhythmic and harmonic sensibilities from Africa.  "Sweet Faced Lie" evokes the heavy shuffle back beat of Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers.  The title cut has been covered before by many artists, most notably the Dirty Dozen Brass Band.  Here, Tony gives it a funky edge with plenty of energy.  "Spherical" and "Cannonball," both extended blues forms, incorporate second line grooves that are masterfully driven by Vidacovich and Riley respectively.  "Monk's Mood," "Sohana Sha Kirpal," and "Sweet Remembrance" show off the saxophonist's lyrical nature with the most elegant and romantic playing of the date.  The authentic and humorous ensemble playing on "Tango" is one of the highlights of the CD.

As a saxophonist, Tony is most well known for his work on tenor and soprano.  And, you hear him on these horns to great advantage.  His soloing on tenor, especially, encompasses a wide swath of the history of Jazz.  He moves effortlessly from a hard edged attitude on "The Wheel" and "Sweet Faced Lie" to the more blues drenched statements found on "Cannonball and "Gemini Rising."  His moving ballad style is on display for "Sohana Sha Kirpal" and the lush "Monk's Mood."  In contrast to his deep throated tenor, Tony's soprano tends to be more intricate and serpentine.  "Tango," "Gemini Rising" and "Spherical" all feature dramatic statements that utilize the timbre and range of the smaller instrument.

This CD marks the first time that Tony has recorded on either alto or baritone saxophone.  For this recording he utilizes the baritone primarily as the bass voice.  His tone is appropriately gruff and virile, holding down the groove with sure footed aplomb.  While the alto is most often used throughout as a lead instrument within the ensemble, it is the featured solo voice on "The Wheel" and "Glory."  Both of these vehicles feature Tony playing the instrument with muscle and emotion.

In describing his approach to the individual saxes, Tony says, "You know, each horn is very different.  Just because they are all saxophones and have the same fingerings doesn't mean you can just move from one to the other effortlessly.  Each one requires a different attitude sonically, requiring time and effort finding the right equipment, the right embouchure, the right reeds, etc.  A lot of time must be spent considering what kind of sound you want to produce and then striving to find a way to achieve it."

Throughout the recording, the different drummers' distinctive personalities are evident and contribute much to the overall impact and energy of individual tracks.  Herlin Riley offers up several world fusion grooves that propel and inspire "The Wheel" and "Mandela."  Then, he turns around and gets as funky as can be for "Gemini Rising" and "Cannonball."  The incomparable John Vidacovich lays down some serious second line on "Spherical" and provides a perfect backdrop for all the shapes and textures in "Tango."  Troy Davis burns it up on "Sweet Faced Lie," and contributes a dangerous pocket and some exciting fills on "Glory."

"Gemini Rising" is a unique personal statement for Tony Dagradi that showcases his skills and talents as a composer, arranger and instrumentalist.  As he mentions in his liner notes, a lot of the inspiration for this project specifically came from the work of vocal acrobat and longtime friend, Bobby McFerrin.  Tony has worked with Bobby in the past and professes to wanting to emulate the singer's "multi-layered creations" using his own voice.  "I also feel that this recording is in many ways a new beginning for me.  I can see how I would like to expand on the concepts put forth here.  I've already started on a sequel which I envision as being even more diverse in terms of texture and orchestration."

Saxophones and drums; what could be better?