Saxophonist Tony Dagradi, who remains most noted as a founding member of New Orleans’ all-star modern jazz ensemble Astral Project, multi-tasks as leader on Oneness. On an album of self-penned material, Dagradi not only utilizes the sax’s family of instruments—tenor, soprano, alto and baritone—but also picks up the flute, clarinet, bass clarinet and even mans the keyboards. The talented musician isn’t a one-man band here, however, as he mixes it up by alternating bass players—Chris Severin or Roland Guerin—and brass men: trumpeters Barney Floyd or Jamil Sharif, plus trombonist Rick Trolsen. Dagradi’s Astral Project partner, guitarist Steve Masakowski, enhances four tunes, with drummer Ricky Sebastian in on the entire musical journey. Steeped with experience playing Latin music and boasting a fiery approach, Sebastian contributes greatly to the flavor of the release.
The Latin tinge is in evidence on the opening title cut, “Oneness.” Dagradi’s recognizable tenor tone and style comes in early on his first solo. He uses the horns of Floyd and Trolsen as a section that, with the help of overdubs, he too is a part of. Next, the leader moves to the keyboards with the recognizable electric bass of Chris Severin layin’ down a solid foundation.
The rhythm appropriately moves to a groove on “The Big Tees,” which stands as a tribute to saxophonist Earl Turbinton and brother keyboardist Wilson “Willie Tee” Turbinton, who definitely knew how to get their groove on. The always-masterful guitar of Masakowski remains elegant though in keeping with style of the era.
Dagradi has long demonstrated his spiritual side both in his compositions and blowing. His lovely “Hymn” is melodically memorable and uplifting. From its gentle start, it builds in emotional impact, particularly when the horns of trumpeter Jamil Sharif and trombonist Rick Trolsen (and we assume Dagradi too) give the impression that the saxophonist is fronting a big band.
Dagradi and the talented and experienced musicians on the album boast their own distinctive voices. Each individual can be distinguished even as they join together on Oneness.