Sunday, May 24, 1998
By David Royko
ASTRAL PROJECT: Elevado (Compass)
GERRY BEAUDOIN TRIO: Just Among Friends (Honest/Linn)
Astral Project manages to walk--or perhaps a better word would be glide--along the line between "serious" and "lite" jazz like few groups can, and perhaps the reason is that one detects absolutely no ulterior motives behind anything they choose to play. Their pop-jazz tunes are crafted with ingenuity without a hint of dumbing down for airplay, while the more challenging material maintains a breezy tunefulness enveloping the odd meters these players seem to enjoy. While evoking everyone from Vince Guaraldi through Ornette Coleman to Bela Fleck's Flecktones, the Project manages to create a distinct personality that truly sounds like nobody else. If not quite as individual in conception, the string jazz of Jerry Beaudoin's trio and all-star guests is no less satisfying. Beaudoin's guitar not so much pushes as tickles the rhythm section into a lightly swinging groove on this varied set of standards, and with friends like mandolinist David Grisman, guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli and clarinetist Billy Novick pitching in, the solos leapfrog from one delight to the next, with Grisman's moody exploration of Miles Davis' "All Blues" serving as an almost encyclopedic inventory of the mandolinist's improvisational maneuvers.