Project Grand Slam are still a fresh face in the global jazz lexicon, but they may have just concocted their penultimate swan song in the form of their new live record Greetings from Serbia, which was recorded this past summer at the Nisville Jazz Festival. Anyone who has never heard their music before and stumbles upon this boldly designed juggernaut of an LP will be pleased to find that the jazz instrumentalism isn’t so intent on mind-bending intricacies that there’s no room left for a pummeling rock breakdown, as hybrid tonality is without a doubt PGS’ specialty. Ten songs deep and riddled with magnetic grooves that owe nothing to populist trends, Greetings from Serbia is anything but a candy pop prefab disguised as a new album.
From the percussion to the sax, the keys to the strings and even in the breathtaking vocals from Ziarra Washington, there isn’t a single component of the band’s sound that isn’t playing on overdrive in this record, but don’t get it twisted – this isn’t the reckless abandon of Who’s Got the 10½?. Project Grand Slam treat each of these songs as if they’re an individualized opus forged out of the fire and brimstone and that produced Miles Davis and Sun Ra. Their synchronicity is something to be marveled at; even more so in this eclectic context.
“Fire,” the tenth and final track on the album, reawakens the psychedelic grooves of Seattle guitar God Jimi Hendrix in a really imaginative way that I think the influential axe man would likely approve of. The same can be said of “Free,” “No No No,” “Gorilla” and the opener “You Started Something,” all of which have this sporty vinyl-rock feel that is as attractive as any of the molten melodies that they are abundantly supplied with. “I Can’t Explain” is the only song here that sounds even close to its original rendition, but it doesn’t feel out of place among all of the enticing experimental noodling.
To be frank, there’s so many high points on Greetings from Serbia that it almost feels cheap to try and cherry pick from the track listing. Listening to the record from start to finish is as chill-inducing as attending a festival chock full of the vitality that comes alive when creative souls are occupying the same space on earth, to the point where Miller’s banter with the audience in the intro to “I’m So Glad” echoes with the same hollow reverberation that I had once thought only possible in an open-air venue like an arena or an amphitheater.
If you’ve found yourself in the unfortunate category of those who have yet to see Project Grand Slam live and in person, I can vouch that Greetings from Serbia will get you as close as humanly possible without you ever having to leave the creature comforts of your own home. Spiked with guttural guitar riffage, sexy crooning and hard funk tonality that breaks through our speakers and fills up any room it’s played in, this record is exactly what 2019 needs to get off on the right foot.
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