As the city's premier modern jazz group, Astral Project has been a New Orleans institution for 33 years. "Big Shot," released in 2001, was the band's first without pianist David Torkanowski and its first as a quartet. Tork's loss is felt, but without him the ensemble is more free and open, creating space for the band to lay out lush melodies and funky New Orleans beats.
Guitarist Steve Maskowski's two compositions "Vigil" and "Vengeance," written as Masakowski waited for word on some of his close family who were visiting the World Trade Center on 9/11, are as haunting as they are tender, with saxophonist Tony Degradi really stealing the show. Not all somber, the album also has a refreshingly funky leaning to many of its songs, particularly on the title track and "Spherical," which Degradi bops along on with seemingly great delight.
It was a risky and challenging proposition to cut ties with one of their most visible and known members, but looking at Astral Project now, 10 years since this crossroads of an album and still without a single Jazz Fest absence, it's clear the move hasn't slowed them down a bit.