But it is his work with Astral Project, a group he founded in 1978, for which he is best known. A student of Eastern religion, Dagradi named the group as part of his vision for music that would carry the artists and listeners alike out of the small self into the higher self. Many will attest to the success of Astral Project in facilitating an out-of-body experience. Comprised of Dagradi on saxophone, along with David Torkanowsky on piano, James Singleton on bass, Steve Masakowski on guitar, and Johnny Vidacovich on the bass, the ensemble is famous for its combination of cerebral riffs and street-music tapestries. The group's CDs Elevado and Voodoo Bop, with tunes like Masakowski's Paladia and Dagradi's composition Protecting Circle, display the range and synergetic force of these musicians who are also all composers.
On Astral Project's 2002 effort, Big Shot, the vibrant piano of Torkanowsky is missing, as he left the group to explore other directions. But all members of the aggregation have always had other projects and commitments. The sound of the new CD is different, but just as compelling.
Dagradi formed his own group and in 1995 recorded a highly regarded CD, Live at the Columns: The Tony Dagradi Trio. The Columns is a venerable old hotel on St. Charles Avenue. Its intimate and elegant interior is the perfect setting for Dagradi's hot, but meditative sound, accompanied by fellow Astral Project colleagues Johnny Vidacovich and James Singleton.
Dagradi, in his incarnation as a university professor, has brought a lot of life to the jazz music educational scene in New Orleans. He started the Jazz Underground program at Loyola, where gifted musicians, including himself, pay homage to some of the greats, such as Thelonious Monk, Horace Silver, and John Coltrane. Or he may be found over at Snug Harbor, sitting in with Rick Margitza. But wherever one finds the talented saxman, you know he's going to take you to a higher level. ~ Rose of Sharon Witmer, Rovi
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