Project Grand Slam – Fire
There’s many Jimi Hendrix covers out there and some are nearly as famous as the originals. Stevie Ray Vaughn’s guitar blitzkrieg version of “Voodoo Child” remains a fixture on radio to this day. Few of these covers, including Vaughn’s, are anything less than reverential tributes to the guitarist/songwriter. New York City based jazz auteurs, Project Grand Slam, don’t initially seem like a strong candidate for covering Hendrix well. They seem equally unlikely to provide listeners with a paint-by-numbers rendition and both suspicions prove true on their new single, “Fire”. This exciting reinvention of an acknowledged Hendrix classic and frequent part of the guitarist’s live set, grabs listener’s familiarity with the song by the scuff of the neck and spins it around. The vivid, almost live production gives the performance an added energetic edge that embodies the original’s spirit while adopting little of its bombast.
Project Grand Slam restructures the track as a bubbling, low-key slice of urban funk. The band’s jazz inclinations turn seamlessly towards capturing the song’s physicality and lack even a hint of discomfort. The rhythm section gives the performance ballast while the guitars and brass lay down lively sheets of color over their steady backbeat. The most impressive aspect of the performance, perhaps, lies in how the musicians focus on serving the song. Not a second of the track hints at anyone showing off or extemporizing for the sake of riffing alone. Robert Miller’s bass expands a great deal on Noel Redding’s relatively simple licks and the guitar takes on a distinctly different role, but like a great film adaptation from literature, Project Grand Slam captures the spirit of Hendrix’s original while studiously reaching to leave its own stamp on the song.
Guest vocalist Kat Robichaud takes everything to another level. Her vocal is equal part seductive and entertaining, but the true entertainment value comes from hearing her own impressive reinvention of Hendrix’s original vocal. Instead of vainly attempting to reproduce the guitarist’s wild rock and roll vocal, Robichaud delivers a take that expertly straddles a line between style and soul. It’s a remarkably well-rounded performance that conjures a tangible sexual tension that the music accentuates. Moreover, it’s never pushed on the listener and those effects are always memorable when accomplished through insinuation rather than plummeting them with a sledgehammer.
“Fire” doesn’t discredit Hendrix’s original but instead, Project Grand Slam’s stunning take doubles down on something many have suspected all along – stripped of their volume and six string heroics, even Hendrix’s simplest songs have an uncluttered solidity helping them stand out as candidates for reimagining. Robert Miller and his collaborators are capable of delivering the goods alone, but their choice to use onetime cast member on The Voice will garner them more attention than before and doesn’t compromise any of their excellence in favor of commerciality. “Fire” will have broad-based appeal as a single and previews an album certain to entertaining old fans while winning over many new ones.