A cheering audience and six clicks of the drumsticks are all it takes to light the fuse on “You Started Something,” which acts as our foray into Project Grand Slam’s brand new live album Greetings from Serbia. A brooding bass gives birth to the rhythm as Ziarra Washington conducts the verses with a sizzling jazz serenade. She rips through the words with an impatient versatility that spreads out the central melody and makes the climactic breakdown feel all the more cinematic and engrossing. A feathery guitar swing triggers the instrumental “1972,” and any notion that Robert Miller’s most recent collaborative incarnation is churning out longer versions of their most popular songs is dashed on the spot. The guitar kicks around a sax part that weaves a fluorescent color into the grooves, but as we soon discover, the fun is just getting started in this LP.
Washington is the center of our attention in the blustery “I’m So Glad” and the neo-blues poetry of “Lament,” which is even more elegiac in nature here, under the heat of a glaring spotlight. The pressure never gets to her though, and she stirs the pot of melodies with her soothing, cool jazz confidence. “No No No” stokes the flames with a fast and furious rhythm that toys with anti-ambience but never becomes so avant-garde that we lose sight of its glowing lyricism. The star of the show here isn’t Washington’s singing, Miller’s basslines or even the erotic sax being dispensed by Mario Castro; it’s the way they all play off of each other in the stickiest of sonic situations.
When the psychedelic nattering of “No No No” finishes up and we get into the worldbeat-style sway of “Free” the pace of Greetings from Serbia starts to slow down a little bit, but make no mistake about it – the band’s emotional play doesn’t soften for a second. The vibrato in Washington’s vocal in “Free” penetrates the main hook in “Gorilla” sans its initial flexibility. “Gorilla” is deceptively simple, though upon closer inspection its key melody is a conceptualized version of what’s about to come at us in “I Can’t Explain,” a cover of The Who song of the same title. “I Can’t Explain” will get even devoted wallflowers onto the dancefloor, but its catchy beat pales in comparison to the grind of “The Queen’s Carnival.”
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Greetings from Serbia wraps us in petulant, aggressive rhythms as it nears the finish line, reaching a fever pitch in a celebratory tribute to Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” which from the start is a decidedly jazz-centric take on one of the songwriter’s most incendiary guitar tracks. When the music ceases and the crowd’s applause fades into silence, the magnitude of what we’ve just heard begins to sink in. Project Grand Slam won me over with The PGS Experience, but this album has made them not only one of my favorite jazz groups to emerge from the 2010s but a band that I believe has the power to shape the narrative of their genre as we embrace this emerging chapter in the storied history of jazz. An album like Greetings from Serbia demands a reaction, and in my experience it gets an inspired one with every listen it’s afforded.
The music of Project Grand Slam has been heard all over the world due to the promotional services offered by Danie Cortese Entertainment & Publicity. Learn more here – http://www.daniecorteseent.com/