Gemini Rising is a unique entry in Tony Dagradi’s discography. For this project of mostly original music, Dagradi overdubbed on four of his horns and is just joined by one of three different drummers. After hearing one selection, it is obvious that nothing is missing and the results are quite simulating and spirited.
Tony Dagradi has long been one of the leading modern jazz performers based in New Orleans. Normally he is heard on tenor and soprano. Among the many artists with whom he has performed are Ellis Marsalis, Gatemouth Brown, Allen Toussaint, James Booker, Dr. John, Johnny Adams, Bobby McFerrin, Mose Allison and Nat Adderley. He worked with the Carla Bley Orchestra for five years.
Dagradi is probably best known for his work with Astral Project, a group that he founded in 1978. The quartet usually features guitarist Steve Masakowski, bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich and, for its first 20 years, also included pianist, David Torkanowsky. Their mixture of jazz, New Orleans parade rhythms, funk and World Music is also reflected in Gemini Rising, but in a very different way.
Three songs on this CD (“Gemini Rising,” “Spherical” and “Tango”) feature Dagradi on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. Five of the other tunes have Dagradi playing alto, two tenors and baritone. The remaining three selections (“Mandela,” “Sohana Sha Kirpal” and “Cannonball”) have additional overdubbing with as many as ten different saxophone lines played by Dagradi. All of the pieces other than “Monk’s Mood” are is his originals.
I find two different aspects of Gemini Rising to be particularly striking. One is how Dagradi actually sounds like several different musicians at once, displaying slightly different personalities on each of his horns. One would not think, if not notified beforehand, that it was the same musician on all of the horns. Also quite noteworthy is how complete this “band” sounds. Due to the inventive arrangements, one does not miss the string bass or piano. All of the necessary music is heard even if the instrumentation is pretty unusual.
The music covers a wide range. “The Wheel” is a rhythmic piece with attractive harmonies and riffs by the horns behind the lead voice. “Sweet Faced Lie” is particularly catchy. The celebratory “Mandela” sounds South African and could have been written by Abdullah Ibrahim. While “Sohana Sha Kirpal” is a bit more somber and has the feel of a ballad, Dagradi’s tenor solo gets heated.
“Gemini Rising” is soulful and a bit funky with infectious rhythms and the soprano in the lead. “Monk’s Mood” is given a relatively straightforward version with harmonized horns paying respect to Monk’s melody. “Spherical,” despite its title, is not a tribute to Monk but instead features parade rhythms and some passionate soprano playing. “Sweet Remembrance” has a theme full of longing while “Cannonball” is a rambunctious blues filled with hot solos. “Tango” lives up to its name while the closing “Glory” has one of the strongest melodies of the set along with some irresistible rhythms and Dagradi sometimes sounding a bit like Hank Crawford on alto.
Even if one cannot go out and see this band live, Gemini Rising is highly recommended.
- Scott Yanow