Legend of Cowboy Bill
Astral Project The Legend of Cowboy Bill It's been exactly two years since Astral Project's last release, Big Shot, which hit the racks just in time for Jazz Fest 2002. Though it somehow seems longer than that, the turnaround is pretty quick for a group that has only put out five albums in it's notable 26 years of existence. These diversely involved players-saxophonist Tony Dagradi, guitarist Steve Masakowski, bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich-direct their creativity to many fronts as educators and leaders and sidemen in various project. In reality, Astral Project could certainly be deemed an all-star band that greatly benefits from the rarity of a long, satisfying history. The results, as heard on The Legend of Cowboy Bill, is the unique quality of an identifiable group sound that also regales in the distinctive voices of each of it's hugely talented musicians. Completely immersed in the ideals of complimenting Dagradi's free-ranging solo on Masakowski's 'Open Space,' Vidacovich nonetheless remains totally unmistakable. Singleton opens his 'Cowboy Bill' with his bass suggesting the clop of a hors. It's melodic dash of yippee-i-o-ki-yea is humorously reinforced with some honkin' sax from the oft more eloquent Dagradi. The change up works on this fun cut. The 'Peter Gunn' start of 'Second Thoughts' puts a smile on a tune that dances near a rollin' second line and brushes the feathers of the Mardi Gras Indians. The title of Vidacovich's contribution, 'Saint Paul,' might imply a quiet spiritual selection. The tune, which we presume is a tribute to one of the drummer's heroes, Paul Motian, actually takes a different devotional route heading outside to open waters. The freedom feels good while the return trip to the brightness of 'Nowhere to hide' with it's wonderfully beboppin' tone, swinging feel and staggered rhythms is equally refreshing. The Legend of Cowboy Bill is a rich tale with lots of twisting plots and no dull moments. Geraldine Wykoff Offbeat Magazine - May 2004 'Like New Orleans itself, Astral Project blends a thousand influences into an alluring identity all it's own.' Chicago Tribune 'One of the most distinctive and cohesive groups in jazz.' Down Beat 'A co-op band comprised of (four) world-class improvisers and composers, Astral Project has been New Orleans' best -kept secret for more than 20 years.' Jazz Times 'Anyone hip to the local scene knows these guys are tops - put them together and you have a powerhouse.' Gambit 'Each of them is a leader in his own right.' Chicago Sun-Times 'The finest modern jazz ensemble in New Orleans, and undoubtedly one of the most unique jazz groups period.' Offbeat The Legend of Cowboy Bill - Despite his lack of recorded output, for those who knew him, Cowboy Bill is one of the unsung heroes of modern jazz. The story goes that Bill was the seventh son of a barrelhouse piano player who supported his clan by playing for dances and gatherings at VFW halls across the land. As he came of age, Bill often traveled with his father's swinging sextet and was soon sucked into the mystique and passion of improvised music. During his Down Time he learned to play each of the instruments in the ensemble, copping all of the stylistic intricacies he heard night after night on the bandstand. After a while, he joined the older musicians playing alto saxophone and even contributed several strikingly original tunes to the band's book. His technical skills were prodigious and it is said that his tone on the alto was so compelling that women would swoon after his first Delicately played notes. But, even with his inherent natural abilities, Bill was always trying to perfect his craft. When everyone was asleep on the bus he would climb on top of the moving vehicle and play for hours into the night using the stars and planets as guides to shape his melodic thoughts. It was during one of these extended practice sessions that he was given the name 'Cowboy' by an old Sioux Medicine Man. As the band pulled into a dusty roadside gas station somewhere in North Dakota the Dark Sage caught sight of Bill and slowly intoned, 'You sound just like a cow, boy!' The rest of the band thought this was hilarious and the nickname stuck. As the band traveled through the Midwest territories Bill would often seek out local saxophone celebrities for ideas and advice. Lester Young admired Bill's tone but told him he should lose the heavy vibrato and develop his lyrical nature. Ben Webster thought Bill should add a few more bends and slurs to his arsenal of inflections. A very young Charles Christopher Parker came many times to check out the groove that the Cowboy was laying down and was later inspired to pick up the alto himself. It wasn't long before Bill's talents caught the attention of record producer, Hamlet Martin. Listening to the radio in Cincinnati, Martin heard the band on a midnight broadcast from St. Paul and was greatly impressed with the young saxophone sensation. As Ham himself said, 'On the radio, there was Nowhere To Hide and I knew I had to try to document this fantastic new sound.' The intrepid entrepreneur quickly met with Bill and before long had hammered out a substantial (and amazingly equitable) recording contract. No one could have anticipated what was to happen next as the first session at a Nashville studio got under way. There was an air of quiet anticipation as the band set up. Bill was directed to a small padded sound booth so that his golden tone might be better isolated. When the door closed and he played his first notes into the dead sounding room a wave of claustrophobia swept over him. It was Too Close For Comfort in that unforgiving enclosure and he knew that real music could never happen there. Silently, without any Second Thoughts he packed up his horn and left the studio. He caught the first train west and was never seen or heard from again. Some folks say that Bill lost his nerve that day. Some say he just didn't want to try to record the music that he loved in such a sterile environment. The real truth is he left looking for more Open Space and a lifestyle of freedom. Today, even though he never recorded a note, his fame has spread far and wide. In the slow hot days of summer, as dusk falls over the lonesome prairie, many people claim that, off in the distance, they can still hear the Cowboy practicing his long tones.