Tony Dagradi Organ Trio

It’d be tough for anyone to possibly enjoy playing their instrument more than drummer Simon Lott does. Watch Lott a few times and you’ll notice that a distinct full-body grinignites even as he approaches the kit. By the time he plays the first note, his face is aglow with rapturous delight that infects all those around him–players and listeners alike.
Tonight’s lucky subjects included duo-mate Brian Coogan(organ) and Astral Project’s Tony Dagradi(tenor and soprano sax). The last two times this trio performed the drummer’s throne was occupied by Jason Marsalis, who uses the sparsest drum kit imaginable to create more sound than should be possible. Lott’s playing and personality cast an entirely different vibe over the proceedings, but his taut, push-the-beat feel dovetailed perfectly with Dagradi’s precise and acrobatic style. With a maturity that belies his age, Lott and his solos remained true to the bandleader’s distinct feel.

Dagradi’s comparatively traditional leanings called for Coogan and Lott to shift their groove a bit from what we’d heard a couple nights earlier (see June 24 review), which they did with ease. These guys have so much fun playing together, as they show their youthful boisterousness with lots of exchanged laughter and a lighthearted way. They traded enthusiastic whoops during each others’ solos, which seemed to loosen up the small and at times restrained audience. Coogan played several extended solos that followed the same principles Lott’s did. They were solid and true to the more straight-ahead roots of the night’s music, yet they were tastefully infused with nuances born of somewhat funkier origins.

The highlight of the evening, certainly for the band, but also for the always knowledgeable N.O. audience, was a guest appearance by Herlin Riley. The folks at my table buzzed with obvious excitement(high praise indeed from these particularly erudite locals!) as the drummer for The Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra greeted each member of the band warmly and made his way onto the bandstand. I’m not even going to try to fully describe what I heard. Suffice to say I’ve never heard drums played this way–snare off, use of hands and fingers on cymbals and skins creating unusual resonance, texture and depth. It was an attack of rhythm that was beyond aggressive. We were in the presence of a master. And not only did Coogan and Dagradi meet the challenge, they reveled in this intriguing new playground, exploring all the tantalizing possibilities being laid out. What a great moment to be sitting at Snug!

When Lott reclaimed his seat not one watt of energy was lost. He not only picked up on the heightened pulse–he pushed it up a couple notches. Dagradi noticed this change immediately and cranked out some of the night’s best stuff. He proceeded to use the waning moments to remind us why he has held his spot at the top of N.O.’s music scene for so long. He’s a great sax player. His tone is unique and beautiful. His technique is as spellbinding as his imagination. I’ve heard him play no less than 15 times this past year and every single solo has left me on the edge of my seat. Channeling the spirits of Coltrane et al in one riff, and rivaling any of the Koz’s and Sanborn’s in the next, he’s always setting the groove, stretching the limits, and making full use of the talented players behind him.

Sunday’s gig had some high expectations to meet, and I can confirm that they were indeed met….and them some!

Nerissa Cohen
June 26, 2005