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 its notable 26 years of existence. These diversely involved players-saxophonist Ton Dagradi, guitarist Steve Masakowski, bassist James Singleton and drummer Johnny Vidacovich-direct their creativity to may 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 its 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. Its 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 its 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