Astral Project At New Orleans Jazz Fest 2013

Astral Project first played New Orleans Jazz Fest in 1978. And this savvy, virtuosic quartet has been bringing its well-honed modern jazz ideas to the Fair Grounds ever since. On Friday at the Jazz Tent, the quartet showed that the young lions of decades past haven't lost their roar, their teeth, or the feline grace of their improvisations.

Reedman Tony Dagradi still runs harmonic mazes with aplomb. (On tenor, Dagradi is virile and fleet, on soprano he's a pastoral piper - take your pick).

Guitarist Steve Masakowski matched Dagradi for harmonic sophistication and raised the ante with the warm, honey-toned sound he draws from a hollow body guitar. As the set progressed this self-possessed stylist ignited, building solos from scalar runs, chiming octaves and lush strummed chords - and keeping all the elements aloft with the jaw-dropping skill of a circus juggler.

At the kit, Johnny Vidacovich showed a jazzman's ease as he danced around the rhythm, prodding his colleagues with sudden downbeats and press rolls. He simmered on brushes, and switched to New Orleans parade figures when the music began to dance.

Bassist James Singleton is the great, natural expressionist in this band. His organic sound has the woody strength of a towering Louisiana cypress, and he is a master at walking behind a soloist. When he steps into the spotlight, he draws blues feeling from the most abstract modern lines.

Great ingredients, huh? But on Friday, Astral Project didn't sound like a bunch of star soloists showing off their skills. It sounded like a band - a band of brothers venturing into fresh territory.

Chris Waddington,
May 3, 2013