Producing an album rich with duality while consciously avoiding a fragmented sound is never easy, regardless of how talented the group of musicians and producers involved may or may not be, but in Project Grand Slam, fans can set aside their reticence and trust that most anything the band commits to master tape will be a listening experience worth its weight in gold. In PGS 7, the Robert Miller-led group’s latest release, we come face to face with a rare vitality in songs like “Get Out,” “At Midnight,” “Funk Latino” and “Tree of Life,” stare down icy grooves as sleek as they are chilling in “Python” and “Redemption Road” (the album’s first single), and hear Project Grand Slam deliver their most haunting track yet in “No One’s Fool.”
This master mix is as physical as any of Miller’s bass parts are on the record, and it spends its fair share of time in the spotlight in “With You,” “Yeah Yeah” and “Torpedo of Love.” Saxophonist Mario Castro has never failed to bring in the goods in previous releases (particularly the song “Lament” from Trippin’), but he’s on a whole other level in PGS 7. Beside Marcello Casagrandi on keyboards, Castro has a couple of lead roles in this album that have the potential to leave the most brooding impression on listeners of any instrumental texture present in the LP. “Take Me” and “Tree of Love” are admittedly built around unparalleled vocal performances from Ziarra Washington, but from my perspective, this album is a true ensemble piece if I have ever heard one.
We’ve got some really magnetizing pop hooks in “Get Out,” “I Don’t Know Why” and “Redemption Road,” but these hooks never define the songs that we find them in. There’s nothing cheap or forced in PGS 7, and even in more exuberant tracks like instrumentals “Funk Latino” and “Python,” the band is in sync and churning out big beats without ever seeming flustered by the glare of the spotlight. You can tell that these players have been sharing the studio together for a long time and honing their best attributes on stage, because not only do they click without ever sounding at war with each other for our attention, they share the sonic ball without getting scattered, and end up scoring way more points with critics like myself as a result.
PGS 7 is highbrow listening from a sublimely talented group of musical wizards that have mastered the art of jazz fusion and are now setting their sights on a style of music that, as of now, has no definitive name attached to it. Robert Miller is no stranger to the fame and adulation that come with making a record that pretty much everybody agrees is a swinging smash, but I think that he has the potential to elevate his status and that of Project Grand Slam to exciting new heights with the release of this swan song of an album. It’ll be hard to top this one in the future, but I’d be crazy to turn down a chance at hearing them try.
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