It’s impossible to assign one label to what Project Grand Slam accomplishes musically and they wouldn’t have it any other way. Bassist Robert Miller was a mainstay on the Boston jazz/rock fusion scene during the 1970’s, but he and his band are far from being an unit stuck in any sort of time warp. Instead, their latest album PGS 7 is an ideal example of how a band can incorporate long standing fundamentals with a thoroughly modern sound and coherently, even eloquently, cover a wide span of musical bases. Miller’s musical pedigree informs the band’s sound, but the other members of Project Grand Slam bring a great deal to their performances as well, yet it all comes seamlessly together. There’s jazz here, rock, Latin influences, and even a smattering of what you might deem to be singer/songwriter sensibilities running through their music. It comes together, however, in such a way that even a discerning listener will be hard pressed to find a single hole in their presentation.
I can’t imagine how the album could start off better than it does with the performance of “Yeah Yeah”. It is a relatively straight forward track, much more so than many of the other more complicated songs included on PGS 7, and has the sort of physicality you’d hope for from an opener. Mario Castro’s sax riffing is one of the finest moments on the album as a whole. “Redemption Road”, the album’s second song and tapped as its first single release, is a much different beast than the opener in key respects, more outwardly “serious”, and the nuanced arrangement reflects this. It’s difficult, if not impossible, to not admire the steady build and release forming the bedrock of this song and the guitar playing is among the best you will hear on PGS 7.
Project Grand Slam are a first rate instrumental band as well, a fact borne out by the excellence of the track “Python”. One of Robert Miller’s influences is legendary Cream bassist and solo artist the late Jack Bruce and you can hear some of those touches in his assertive bass line for this track, but there’s a lot more to recommend this number as well. The guitar-driven shuffle of “No One’s Fool” eventually transforms into an instrumental showcase with each of the band’s players afforded a chance to shine within the context of the song and vocalist Ziarra Washington gives us one of her most fleet-footed and confident vocals on the release. It’s great, but her take on the Dobie Gray classic “The ‘In’ Crowd” is even more memorable thanks to how well she wraps her sultry pipes around the thoughtful “re” arrangement of this 1960’s stalwart.
We are treated to one last blast of pure musical energy with the hopped up “I Don’t Know Why” but the band is far from content with just blazing away and incorporates interesting variations in textures during the song’s second half. Project Grand Slam prove themselves capable of continual surprise, however, with the finale “Tree of Life”, a song responding to the tragedy of a school shooting, thanks to an arrangement exclusively turning on its lyrical skill, the combination of Washington’s wrenching vocal and Baden Goyo’s eloquent piano work. It is different from anything that comes before it and shows, as if proof were needed, that Project Grand Slam haven’t even reached their peak – but PGS 7, undoubtedly, is closer than ever before.