Album Review: Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam – The PGS Experience

Robert Miller's Project Grand Slam

photo by John Wisdom; photo courtesy of Project Grand Slam

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.”

Robert Miller's Project Grand Slam - The PGS Experience

image courtesy of Project Grand Slam

“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…

Robert Miller

photo by John Wisdom; photo courtesy of Project Grand Slam

…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.

Looking Ahead

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.

Album Review: Project Grand Slam – The Queen’s Carnival

Project Grand Slam

photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

Project Grand Slam – The Queen’s Carnival

Album Review of Project Grand Slam: The Queen’s Carnival

Project Grand Slam - The Queen's Carnival

image courtesy of Miles High Productions

The horns pop, the bass and keys dance… Project Grand Slam’s The Queen’s Carnival is the quintessential jazz fusion disc. For those of us who grew up with the seasonal Charlie Brown special, there’s a bit of Vince Guaraldi’s style in here. Also a healthy dose of those energetic horns and funky beat that suggest PGS may rival the electricity level of a ska band if you saw them perform live.

Comprising Robert Miller on electric bass, Marcello Casagrandi on keyboards, Mario Castro on saxophone, Joel E. Mateo on drums and percussion, and Yasser Tejada on guitar, Project Grand Slam seamlessly shares the driving on this particular journey.

Project Grand Slam

photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

To start things off, “Beyond Forever” welcomes the listener like a slap of fresh, cold air on a crisp fall day. It’s followed by “The Rescue,” which continues the groove. And that ska-like groove I mentioned? Check out the title track, “The Queen’s Carnival”! It’s a guaranteed party-starter.

The album’s only vocal number is a cover of “You Really Got Me,” featuring the jazzy vox of Lucy Woodward. There’s a just-as-fun instrumental version toward the end of the collection.

Indeed, for an instrumental album to stand out, it’s all on the musicians. Their instruments and the songs that contain them must tell a story. The tempos and jams vary significantly throughout the disc, offering an engaging listening experience.

Project Grand Slam with Lucy Woodward

PGS with Lucy Woodward; photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

Other tracks worth investigating are the seventies rock (with horns)-flavored “Gorilla,” the deliberate, “Peter and the Wolf”-esque pace of “It’s the Beat,” and album-ending “Lullaby for Julesy,” a horn-driven, sweet holiday-season-flavored lullaby. The twinkling sounds even recall a light snow, bringing this stellar disc to a pleasantly drowsy end.

I don’t consider myself a knowledgeable jazz connoisseur by any means, but I recognize and enjoy a top-shelf group when I hear it, and from what I hear on The Queen’s Carnival, Project Grand Slam clearly qualifies as such.

Project Grand Slam

photo courtesy of Miles High Productions

Looking Ahead

PGS has a few upcoming shows booked, per its online concert calendar.  On Wednesday, October 19th, they’ll by opening for Boney James at the Ridgefield Playhouse in Ridgefield, CT. After that, there are a few shows around New York: Saturday, October 22nd at Groove in the City; Wednesday, November 2nd opening for Reign of Kindo at the Knitting Factory in Brooklyn; Saturday, November 12th back at Groove; Monday, November 21st at the Thanksgiving Benefit for CityMeals at Iridium; and again Friday, December 2nd at Groove. Then, on Saturday, December 3rd at the Highland Lakes Concert Series in Highland Lakes, NJ. Do keep an eye on the band’s website for additional dates as they’re added.