New Orleans has long been known as the Big Easy. The city is also, of course, rather out of commission at the moment, and one of the few bright spots in that whole story is that its musicians are scattered all over the place, sharing their unique talents with people who might not otherwise get to hear them. Last night, Denton (which has long been known as Little D to Dallas' Big D) became the Little Easy for a few hours as the amazing New Orleans-based group Astral Project performed at UNT. The group, made up of saxophonist Tony Dagradi, guitarist Steve Masakowski, bassist James Singleton and drummer John Vidacovich, covers a variety of styles and does so with an amazing sense of both virtuosity and near-telepathic togetherness.
Each member is a master of his instrument, and together they form something really special. Dagradi was all over the horn; I heard traces of Brecker and Trane in his sound, but he's definitely his own man. His guitar-and-tenor unisons with Masakowski were dazzling; that sound combination is a personal favorite to begin with, and they pulled it off with jaw-dropping speed and accuracy. Masakowski plays a seven-string guitar of his own design (with extra frets on the bottom end, as a guitarist friend of mine pointed out) and combined virtuosic technique with interesting tonal colors, making special use of harmonics. Singleton plays acoustic bass, but oftentimes in very non-acoustic ways (slaps. pops, etc.). His feature on "Cowboy Bill" was impressive, as was a tune in the second set where he started out playing a sequence of low notes, then adding higher figures over top of them at the same time. Hmm--that was cool. But wait...he's breaking out the bow too? And all three things are still going? OK, he's obviously got some sequencer stuff there. Drummer Vidacovich was worth the price of admission all by himself. In addition to spicing everything up with grooves that have "New Orleans" written all over them, he added colorful cymbal splashes, interesting and intricate polyrhythms, and occasional manic eruptions, all in an extremely tasty manner. Plus, he's one of those "rubber-limbed" drummers who's just so fun to watch.
It was a great evening that ended too soon. I'm definitely looking forward to picking up some of their CD's (available on their website, as well as at CD Baby and the iTunes Music Store.
107 years of brotherhood: Happy Founders Day to my fraternity, Sinfonia, a fine brotherhood of musicians. Out here, we're celebrating on Sunday with a big concert at Baylor; I'll have more on that later.