On first listen, Tony Dagradi’s Gemini Rising sounds simply like a New Orleans ensemble hitting its stride with equal parts grace, grit and gumbo. But wait a minute - this is a horns-and-drums band only. Master saxophonist Dagradi performs on soprano, alto, tenor and baritone, layering his horns (up to 10 in a tune) with the accompaniment of three New Orleans Drummers: Herlin Riley, Johnny Vidacovich and Troy Davis. It’s amazing that essentially two musicians (per track) and technology can create such a vibrant, joyous recording.
A traditional soprano-alto-tenor-baritone saxophone quartet is used on some songs, but most use a more atypical instrumentation of alto, two tenors and baritone. Perhaps this accounts for the unique textures Dagradi achieves on “Sweet Remembrance,” “Monk’s Mood” and “Sweet Faced Lie.” Dagradi also credits his friend Boby McFerrin as inspiration in his multi-layering of horn parts. Any way you slice it, Gemini Rising is an irresistible album.
Baritone toots kick off “The Wheel.” joined by aromatic tenors that swirl a snake charmer-like spell. A Caribbean groove informs “Mandela”; a triumphal if forlorn mood fills “Sohana Sha Kirpal.” The title track is pure James Brown-worthy funk with Indian tabla adding an otherworldly edge. “Monk’s Mood” uses four solo horns as an emotional compass recalling ’60s-era Herny Mancini. Throughout Gemini Rising, Dagradi creates a seamless full-bodied sound, each song emotional, riveting and joyful.
- Ken Micallef