If there’s anyone in his scene these days who doesn’t have anything left to prove to critics, fans or anyone else, it’s undoubtedly Robert Miller, whose work with Project Grand Slam definitely stands on its own. Miller’s name has spent plenty of time in the headlines in recent years as PGS have mounted a campaign to break the fusion model and expand their influence from the underground to the mainstream – with a lot of success – but this October, it’s getting fresh acclaim for a solo effort in Summer of Love that is bound to raise an eyebrow or two among his most dedicated of listeners. Summer of Love is a very experimental take on his signature sound, but to be frank, his has always been a style known for its versatility above all else.
PROJECT GRAND SLAM: https://www.projectgrandslam.com/
The emphasis on the relationship between the percussion and the guitar parts in “The Night Was a Mystery” and “Heaven” in particular struck me as being more of a rock n’ roll-influenced element in this tracklist than it was a straight fusion component, and when I listen to “Now and Always” and “Walking in the Corner,” I can’t help but hear a poppiness that just hasn’t been present in much of Miller’s work prior to now. The experimentation is focused but not without some improvisational cues, lending authenticity to the master recordings here more through rough transitions than forced grit. It’s a long ways from the loathsomeness of the plastic-faceted “atmospheric” fusion records debuting out of the west coast this past summer, and that makes it a winner in my book for certain.
Robert Miller is an adept arranger, but for him to have fit so many tightly-wound tunes into a single disc here is really something he deserves a lot of praise for. If you were to slow the tempo on “Aches and Pains” or even “New Life (Annie’s Song),” it would make all of the intricacies within every harmony in this LP all the more obvious even to the most novice of critical ears. It’s not quite showboating, but my gut tells me one of the main goals with the creation of Summer of Love was to showcase how far this artist can push himself without breaking – with genres, collaborators and even his own persona.
If Project Grand Slam can be credited with setting the bar, Miller is raising it for both himself and the future of his band with the debut of his first solo record. Summer of Love has a vicious side to its melodic gems, and when it comes undone, it feels a lot more like a rock record disguised as alternative fusion than it does anything else in the world. Critics, journalists, listeners and even other players are going to spend some time debating where this LP sits on the aesthetical shelf, but to me personally, I think it’s the sort of outing Miller’s career needed to bring his vision into this new era in music the right way.
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