"Voodoo Bop is full of the boundary-busting expressionism that makes them the most seductive and mind-expanding jazz group in New Orleans." - OffBeat... more
Astral Project is a band that according to Down Beat is "one of the most distinctive and cohesive quintets in jazz of the '90s." Formed in 1978 from the cream of New Orleans" modern jazz scene, Astral Project has remained a unit even while its members explored innumerable other endeavors, including recordings as leaders and sidemen for a wide array of major and independent labels. Through it all, the band known as New Orleans" Premier Jazz Ensemble has always regrouped to reach for the stars. JazzTimes proclaimed Astral Project as "one of the more adventurous working units in modern jazz today."
On Voodoo Bop, their second album for Compass Records, Astral Project's improvisational abilities are more tightly woven than ever. The album was produced by Astral Project and mixed and mastered by John Fischbach, Stevie Wonder's acclaimed engineer during his great '70s period. Recorded at Kingsway Studios, the historic French Quarter mansion turned recording haven, Astral Project recorded the album live in the large tracking room with no separations or overdubs -- a first for the band. Band members attest that the well-known mysterious vibe of the mansion played part in the mystical feel of the tracks on the album.
The ten tracks on the album are all journeys into different musical realms reflecting the fact that the band has continued to grow musically and expand on their vast array of knowledge. "All my life what I've enjoyed most is that I get to play all kinds of different gigs with different people," says drummer John Vidacovich. "But this is what we do. I think what makes us cool as a group is that when we get together for so long over so many years -- we bring these other little trips we've been on." The bonus track, "The Queen is Slave to No Man" was written by bass player James Singleton who says, "The idea behind this tune was to highlight instant composition. The only parts of the piece that are composed are the first minute and the last minute; everything else is improvised. It's exciting for us because each time we play it, it's new."
In the '70s, the band had a nightly gig at a place called the Absinthe House on Bourbon Street. An unknown Bobby McFerrin used to sit in with them almost every night. Recently, while playing in St. Paul, Astral Project was reunited with Bobby McFerrin. After a reminiscent jam session, Bobby invited Astral Project to tour with him in the summer of '99.
These five veteran musicians -- known as tops on their instruments in jazz-rich New Orleans -- bring a wealth of diverse experience to the bandstand which has helped gained them features with NPR's Jazz Set with Branford Marsalis and profiles in Down Beat and JazzTimes. A story in The Chicago Tribune said, "Like New Orleans itself, Astral Project blends a thousand influences into an alluring identity all its own." They also bring strong ideas about the music they make together. For them, music is a group search for a higher plane of understanding. It is not about formality or classicism, musical boundaries or some misguided dogma on what constitutes "real" jazz.
True to the original spirit of jazz, Astral Project creates real tunes -- memorable melodies -- while giving the musicians freedom to incorporate influences from all sources. Like a flock of birds in flight, the group shifts direction with an ease so uncanny it seems to verge on telepathy. It's an ease that can come only from special individuals who have spent 20 years improvising together. "You have to stay out of the way of the music," says James Singleton "and then the reward is you get something new that you didn't know before about yourself. If I close my eyes, I can learn more, I can get more. You find it's a transcendent experience. It's a spiritual experience in a way. Because you find you become part of a larger thing. It reinforces your faith -- in God and existence, human existence. It heals you."