Project Grand Slam – Greetings From Serbia

As the crowd goes wild in the background, guitarist Tristan Clark slides into the funky opening riff of “1972,” one of the more rollicking tracks of Project Grand Slam’s new live album Greetings From Serbia. Clark smacks us around with his feisty guitar play, which is soon penetrated by the swanky sax of Mario Castro.

Robert Miller, the mastermind of Project Grand Slam, sets up the framework here and in the other nine songs on the record with his trademark beefy bass, which is arguably at its most toned and nimble in these opulently mixed tracks. Greetings From Serbia is engaged listening on steroids, and those bold enough to enter its brutal sonic waves should beware of the intensity they’re about to face

Project Grand Slam make certain to use every inch of space in these songs; whether they’re chipping away at melancholy in “Lament” with studded harmonies or delivering unforgiving tonality via the bassline in “Gorilla” or “The Queen’s Carnival,” the master mix is saturated in a muscular, scooped EQ that contributes to the bulging feel of the music.

Nothing is stretched out or forced together here, but then again arrangements like these don’t really call for as much. Miller and company patiently work their way through movements of lush melodies fused with jarring rhythms, their sharp execution creating the artistic parameters of each track.

Even the cover songs included on Greetings From Serbia have the look and feel of original material thanks to the imaginative way in which Project Grand Slam choose to play them. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a jazz rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire” that featured as pendulous a tempo, nor such intrepidly modulated vocals.

Singer Ziarra Washington provides a crucial finishing touch to songs like this one, “Free” and “You Started Something,” and personally I think that her vocal timbre compliments the variety of bass tones that Miller favors over all others in this LP.

After “I’m So Glad,” I think that “No No No” might be the most robust song I’ve heard Project Grand Slam record. With the swing and swagger of a midcentury pop single and the sly backbeat of a vintage jazz track, “No No No” marries all of the group’s influences together in a juggernaut of a jazz song that speaks as much to the skill sets of the individual players as it does the collective talent that this band brings to the table.

I first discovered them through their memorable cover of The Who’s “I Can’t Explain,” and this live record has shown me that they’re even more impactful and potent on stage than they are inside the four walls of a studio.

Unabashedly raw and unrefined but nevertheless the smoothest live record I’ve reviewed in a long time, Greetings From Serbia is a postcard from beyond the realm of pop predictability. In a year full of disappointing jazz fusion fodder from artists who would need a footstool to reach the low points of an album as captivating as this one, Project Grand Slam pull out all the stops and give music enthusiasts and critics alike something to really celebrate heading into 2019.

You don’t have to be familiar with this group to appreciate the massive achievement this album is, and I would even recommend this LP as a premier starting point for anyone trying to familiarize themselves with the divine works of Robert Miller.

 

Eric Jarvis

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