Any debts bassist, songwriter, and band leader Robert Miller owes his songwriting muses are long since paid. The all-around gifted Miller cut his teeth as a young man on the music of the mid and late 1960’s, Jack Bruce’s bass playing with seminal power trio Cream ranking high on his initial “masters”, but adulthood and additional experience expanded his reach. The fusion movement of the 1970’s provided the key finishing school for Miller and the lessons he learned from such bands as Weather Report, among others, propelled him far in the music world.
His band Project Grand Slam, however, eschews any of fusion jazz’s grandiosities. Miller’s seven piece band has several studio releases under their belt and the latest, The Shakespeare Concert, provides an unique live album experience. The band repeats their live set from a recent concert at Shakespeare and Co., a Massachusetts based theatre education center. Project Grand Slam enjoys a considerable musical reputation, without question, but the band has likewise garnered the necessary clout to aid worthwhile organizations and causes when they see fit.
They kick things off with a stirring beginning. “I’m Falling Off of the World” whips up some energetic musical brinksmanship without ever broaching overwrought territory. Uninformed listeners may hear a bit of a meandering quality in Alex Blade Silver’s saxophone contributions, but his vigorous riffing on the song’s musical themes. “Redemption Road” is one of a handful of songs on the album benefitting from a strong groove without ever playing in an obvious and heavy-handed way. It’s, likewise, one of the best examples of the songwriting excellence defining Project Grand Slam’s releases thus far.
The decision to perform the concert’s set straight through with no overdubs, warts and all, isn’t that brave of a move. Polished and well-rehearsed musicians can pull off the demands of these songs with equal parts technical skill and conviction. The ineffable quality, however, that Project Grand Slam brings to this and other performances, however, is chemistry. “It Is A Miracle to Me” is one of the ideal examples of this chemistry in action.
Tristan Clark’s lead guitar hits a sweet spot with the song. His insistent rhythm playing kicks off the track before additional instrumentation enters the picture. You can’t help but be impressed by the consistently modulated approach Project Grand Slam takes towards building their compositions – they are economical, never wallowing in extraneous playing, and never test listener’s patience as a result. “New York City Groove” is one of the unquestioned stand outs of the set.
It sparkles with rambunctious energy and percolates without ever boiling over. Vocalist Marilyn Castillo delivers one of her best vocals brimming with playfulness that givens a further twist to her clear skill. Clark unleashes some biting guitar work during “The One I’m Not Supposed To See”, particularly deeper into the song, but the keyboards deserve mention as well. It’s one of the harder-hitting numbers included on the release and it isn’t difficult to hear why the band includes it in their live set. They’ve made an excellent decision releasing this live set for mass consumption. It’s a five-star representation of where the band are currently in their development and makes a great case for their preeminence as one of the best indie live acts performing today. It, likewise, confirms Project Grand Slam’s status as one of the most satisfying studio units working now.
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