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Astral Project: VooDooBop

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The opening title track is classic Astral Project. An undulating, syncopated groove by drummer Johnny Vidacovich is joined by the authoritative, thumping upright basslines of James Singleton and the funky underpinning is firmly in place. Enter a few hip, strategically placed chordal voicings by pianist David Torkanowsky, ladle on flowing, fleet-fingered unison lines by saxophonist Tony Dagradi and guitarist Steve Masakowski, turn the beat around to an uptempo swing thing, walk that bass and turn the formidable soloists loose and…voila! A band agile enough to delight second liners down in their native New Orleans and pass the bop test with jaded jazzbo New Yorkers…all within the same tune.

This kind of band cohesion doesn’t happen overnight. Astral Project has been at it for 21 years and during that time they’ve developed a remarkable rapport that allows them to mind-meld on the earthiest funk, the outest free-blowing excursions, the most poignant ballads and the hardest swinging 4/4 romps, all in convincing fashion. They touch on all of those aspects here.

Each of the members of Astral Project is also an accomplished composer and bandleader in his own right, with impressive sideman credits to boot. Dagradi, a one-time member of Carla Bley’s band, contributes the lyrical ballad “Smoke and Mirrors,” the folkish “Protecting Circle,” the jaunty blues “The Whole Truth” and the angular, free-blowing “Fallout,” which revolves around Vidacovich’s signature street beats and interactive swing pulse. The drummer plays colorist on his own “Deb’s Garden,” which features melodic commentary on the kit, and he offers some soulful, Mose-esque vocals on a heartfelt cover of “Old Folks.” Masakowski, a remarkably fluid and swinging soloist with two superb Blue Note recordings to his credit, contributes the title track, the hauntingly beautiful “Sombras en la Noche” and the quintessentially laid back N’awlins number “Southern Blue.” The most involved piece is Singleton’s suite-like “The Queen Is Slave to No Man,” an exercise in totally free, spontaneous composition framed by passages of chamber-like structure. Singleton also contributes the slamming jam “Foxy Roxy,” which could rock the late night revellers on Bourbon Street.

Stylistically, VooDooBop is all over the map. And Astral Project wouldn’t have it any other way.