Ad Astra
(Ad Astra)


One of the top instrumental jazz fusion groups ever to come out of Long Island, N.Y.—Ad Astra features the guitar prowess of the always impressive Joe Nardulli. Putting the prog seal of approval on the proceedings, guitar icon Carl Roa is credited with co-producer chores and the album has a similar kind of musical vibe as his group Magic Elf. Listening to Nardulli getting solid backup from David Penna (drums), Eric Davis (keyboards) and J. Levine (bass), one could compare Ad Astra to a kind of 21st century Return To Forever (mid '70s with DiMeola) but with a solid Allan Holdsworth / Steve Morse inspired vision. Even so, the best stuff here has a definite melodic end game, even when coupled with the daredevil fusion pyrotechnics. Instrumental rock, from Long Island and beyond, hits a new high with Ad Astra. Nardulli and company took the stage at the Wave venue on August 28, 2009. Let’s hope Ad Astra continue to break new group in the realm of jazz-based instrumental rock.


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Musical Background

I’ve been playing guitar for over 30 years now, starting in elementary school when they offered a guitar class. I took a few years of lessons after that but never got serious enough to continue. I focused mostly on my school studies and when it came to guitar I picked up what I could from radio and records.

As much as I liked music, I knew early on that it probably wouldn’t pay the bills so I got my engineering degree and once I got a steady job, I kicked my guitar playing into high gear and became a better player. Having always been drawn to coming up with song ideas when playing, most of my practice time was dedicated to creativity rather than technique. Now granted, I have some technical ability on the instrument but I’ve been playing for a looooong time! I found my compositional abilities begin to take shape and I got myself a sequencer and started writing full songs with drums, bass, and keyboards backing up my guitar playing. The compositional process came relatively easy to me and although I had no knowledge of music theory, I was able to come up with some interesting chord progressions over odd-time rhythms. The key for me though was to come up with strong melodies on top of it all to maintain a sense of “song.”

New CD

In 2003 I was encouraged by Carl Roa of the band Magic Elf to record a bunch of the songs I had written with my sequencer. With his background as an accomplished and schooled musician, I was surprised he thought enough of the material to want to help me record it and the result was my debut CD: Joe Nardulli. I got a pretty good response from it despite it not being a full band recording. I also went out with my sequencer and guitar and started playing the material live. Most of the e-mails and comments I got from people talked about how they really enjoyed the songs and arrangements; that it wasn’t just a bunch of noodling and wanking on the guitar, but real song-craft. I was also very satisfied that people heard the positive, uplifting vibe I tried to evoke with the music—a testament to my Christian faith. So, I decided to put a band together and was really blessed to find some great players very quickly. Eric Davis on keyboards—I met him while he was on line at a sold out Steve Morse show. I didn’t have a ticket and for some reason, out of all the people there, I walked up to him and asked if he had an extra one. It just so happened he did and we’ve been friends ever since. J Levine on bass, approached me after one of my “live-with-a-sequencer” shows and we hit it off right away. David Penna on drums—Eric knew him from work and we all really enjoy playing together and writing tunes. We started out as the “Joe Nardulli Band” but the ego-trip isn’t really my thing and I insisted we name the band. We went with AD ASTRA, inspired by the last track on the Joe Nardulli CD, “Ad Astra Per Aspera” – NASA’s latin motto meaning “To the stars through difficulty”.

We recorded AD ASTRA at Carl Roa’s studio and the response has been very satisfying. Some of the e-mails we get, from all over the world, are very humbling. I’m really glad that people get it.

Favorite Guitars

I played a Washburn Strat shaped guitar with two humbuckers, for 19 years before the frets got so low it was unplayable. I recorded the Joe Nardulli CD and did a few shows with that guitar but I really needed something new. I went with a guitar I dreamed about for 10 years, a Brian Moore C55. These are custom shop guitars made in Upstate New York and I used them exclusively on the AD ASTRA CD. I have three of them now. What’s interesting is that they feel very much like the Washburn I played for a long time as they have almost identical neck profiles and frets. These are Mahogany body, Maple top, Rosewood fingerboard guitars with Wilkinson tremolos. All three of them have a Piezo bridge for acoustic sounds and one of them also includes a 13-pin MIDI system for driving synthesizers. They are very high-tech guitars made with old-world craftsmanship sensibilities. What I find interesting is that most players I talk to go through so many guitars of the same brand and model to find the “one.” My three Brian Moore’s are so consistent in feel and quality that, blindfolded, I can’t tell which of the three I’m playing. I string them with 0.010s, either Ernie Ball or D’Addario.

I’ve been using the same amp since 1987, a MESA/Boogie Mark II-C. I used this amp exclusively on the AD ASTRA CD. I don’t use any effects pedals live or in the studio, my guitar goes straight into the amp. I’m partial to the MESA/Boogie line and also have a Studio 22+, Simul 295 and Simul 2:90 power amps and a Formula preamp. For a great direct sound, I really like the SansAmp Classic pedal.

For effects in a live situation, I use a Lexicon LXP-5 in the preamp’s effects loop for reverb, delay and modulation sounds. I keep it really simple on stage and only have an A/B box, a tuner and a MIDI switching pedal in front of me. In the studio, all effects were handled via the DAW software.

For acoustic sounds, the Brian Moore’s Piezo bridge is treated with a SansAmp Acoustic DI pedal. I also have a Godin Multiac Nylon string acoustic guitar which has a 13-pin MIDI pickup to drive synthesizers. I hope to explore more possibilities with that guitar in the future.

Musical Influences

My early influences were Jimmy Page, Randy Rhoads and Alex Lifeson. I’ll never forget hearing “The Immigrant Song” for the first time and being totally floored by it. That power and raw energy sent a tingle up and down my spine. I fully immersed myself in the Zeppelin catalog and always enjoyed their more progressive songs. Presence is my favorite album by them. I liked Randy Rhoads for his tone and melodic phrasing. Of course, Rush was the first truly progressive rock band that I got into. I wore out the grooves on Permanent Waves and Exit – Stage Left. After I graduated college and got a full-time job I got more serious about the guitar. It was during this time that I was heavily influenced by Steve Morse, Eric Johnson and Shawn Lane’s Powers of Ten era work. I was also listening to a lot of progressive rock (Queensryche, King’s X) and fusion (Tribal Tech, Mike Stern). I found that what I liked most about my influences was their song-writing style. Yes, they were of course great players, but their songs, arrangements and melodic ideas are what really endeared me to them.

Upcoming Plans

The band is currently doing live shows to support the AD ASTRA CD. We’ve also started writing new material and have a goal to introduce a new song into the set every couple of shows. Because we play locally, we’re in front of the same crowd a lot so we want to give them something new to listen to and reason to come to keep coming to the shows. They’re always excited to hear the new tunes. We plan on recording a follow up CD and have a lot of song ideas. Everyone’s involved in the writing process and we work out the arrangements together during rehearsals. The compositional process is my favorite part of our rehearsals and it’s great to finish up a tune and play it live for the first time. We’ve been invited to play other cities and stretch out and we hope to do that as well. A two week east coast tour has long been a dream of mine. And then a west coast one too…of course!!

Web Site

You can check us out at the following websites:


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