It’s not an exaggeration to say that a typical night at Snug harbor with Astral Project is always a great night of jazz. Since 1978, the group of all-star players - saxophonist Tony Dagradi, drummer Johnny Vidacovich, bassist James Singleton and guitarist Steve Masakowski - has knocked out audiences around the world with its inspired, energetic and all-for-one performances. For the first time in its stellar history, Astral Project has released a live recording that captures the ensemble onstage at its Frenchmen Street musical home. Video recorders were also in the house to mark another band first, a companion DVD that was produced by Dagradi’s son, Dominic. The 68-minute CD and 92 minute DVD come in a set (not sold separately) and the music can be downloaded to MP3 players.

As it would be a regular gig, most of the material comes from the musicians’ hefty pens and includes favorites such as Singleton’s “Cowboy Bill” with its unusual western, get-along-little-doggie theme. Here, too, is Vidacovich’s progressive “Saint Paul,” and Masakowski’s bow to New Orleans, “Sidewalk Strut.” Several tunes such as Dagradi’s “Spherical” show up only on the DVD. The no-frills video lets the audience in on the group’s visual appeal and the personalities of the musicians, from the understated stance of Masakowski while he rips off intricate solos, to Vidacovich’s always-humerous CD sales pitch and his wonderfully rich and witty poetry.

While a live recording is an absolute necessity for some bands whose essence seems to be difficult to capture on disc, Astral Project has never had this foible. Nonetheless, the spontaneous communication and improvisation that is central to jazz happens on the bandstand. The straight forward title of this package succinctly tells the story. Live in New Orleans is Astral Project digging into the music with unwavering verve in the comfort of its home turf.

- Geraldine Wycoff  Offbeat Magazine 2006