Album Review of Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam: The PGS Experience (Cakewalk Records)
I reviewed Project Grand Slam‘s last CD, The Queen’s Carnival, about a year ago. This new release is a fresh collection with a guest appearance by a jazz saxophonist whose fame transcends genres, Mindi Abair. The PGS Experience contains nine songs, beginning with five new studio recordings, followed by four live numbers.
Every saxophonist has his or her distinct sound, and I recognized something familiar from the very steady, powerful horn powering energetic, light, playful album-opener “Metro Shuffle.” It was no surprise to discover that was one of the two tracks that featured Mindi Abair. As with any good jazz number, of course, the instruments pass the baton around, and there’s a neat electric guitar bit, too, that adds something special to “Metro Shuffle.”
“Free” adds vocals to the musical mix, with keys and saxophone – this isn’t a Mindi Abair number, but sax often features prominently in PGS’s catchy originals. There’s a bit of electric guitar, too, but the bluesy vocal wails are the key element on this track.
Back to instrumentals, “Fishin” is the second Mindi Abair-featuring tune on the album, with a light, jangly, Jimmy Buffett-esque organ bed and island rhythm supporting the blissfully meandering sax line.
Next up is “Hollywood,” another memorable piece with a bit of jazzy jangle, its tightly cycling rhythm and harsh sax parts creating a bit more tension than found elsewhere on the disc. The most relaxing portion of the song is probably the keyboard-driven segment, but even it is a little frenetic.
The final studio number, PGS’s cover of Cream’s “I’m So Glad,” is the other new song with vocals. Full of energy, its tempo is driven by guitar, drums, and vocal howls and showcases energetic guitar and sax solos. Not surprisingly – Cream, anyone? – it’s probably the most rock ‘n roll of the new studio songs…
…which leads nicely into the four live numbers. The live songs are rawer with a bit more rock ‘n roll flavor than the studio recordings, on the whole. They do a great job of demonstrating the energy I suspect a live Project Grand Slam show would feature. And they make me want to catch a live PGS gig. The live portion of the record features two PGS originals, both from The Queen’s Carnival, and two cover tunes, one of which was also included on the last album.
Of the live originals, “Gorilla” shows off blaring sax, roaring guitar, and interesting tempo changes, while “The Queen’s Carnival” is a lively Latin party number that’ll be sure to get you dancing, a memorable tune that stood out on the previous CD and by now is an old friend and, I suspect, a live performance favorite.
The live covers are PGS’s super-funky version of The Kinks’ “You Really Got Me” and a distinctly roaring rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Fire,” surprisingly full of nuanced keyboardwork amid its edgy, in-your-face overall style.
The PGS Experience is yet another gem full of electric energy from one of New York’s jazz fusion jam-band treasures, bassist/composer Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam.
To keep up with PGS’s live performances, see the “calendar” page of PGS’s website. The band’s currently-scheduled next gig is Sunday, October 1, at Magic City Smooth Jazz’s “Alabaster Jazz In The Park” in Alabaster, Alabama (south of Birmingham); then on Monday, October 16, opening for Mindi Abair and the Boneshakers at B.B. King’s in New York; and on Thursday, October 19th, opening for Boney James at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, Connecticut. Check the site for additional information and for more live dates as they’re added.