Project Grand Slam – The Queen’s Carnival
Since its formation in 2007, Project Grand Slam has been the vehicle through which bassist and band leader Robert Miller realizes his musical ambitions. Their fourth album, The Queen’s Carnival, marks the closest that Miller himself feels he’s come yet to realizing the goal of marrying rock and jazz under one all-encompassing banner. His influences and own prodigious talents lay the groundwork for making that possible. It isn’t difficult to hear the sway that legendary Cream bassist and solo artist Jack Bruce holds over Miller’s playing, but the American born bassist has taken things into his own personal direction. Miller’s bass lines are often much more muscular than those of his heroes and he’s quite capable of making eyepopping mood shifts in a blink. It spices up the eleven songs on Project Grand Slam’s latest release and those before it with sharp, if understated, edge of unpredictability that never leaves the songwriting.
“Beyond Forever” has a title that suggests a nod to iconic 70’s fusion band Return to Forever and there’s more than a little about the music’s often full throttle, intricate attack that suggests the connection might be real. This is a powerhouse opening to the album and the uptempo energy continues on its second track. “The Rescue” takes fewer risks and, overall, rates as much more traditionally minded fare, but it otherwise seethes with the same keyed up pulse. The most impressive aspect about this one-two punch opening things is how, despite the breathless pace it often sets for the band, they retain total control throughout. The band’s cover of The Kinks’ :You Really Got Me” is far from a slavish carbon copy. Miller shows off his arranging skills with a crackling reimagining that essentially claims the track as their own – the mark of any good cover. Guest vocalist Lucy Woodward underscores the utter freedom the band has with this performance with her lively, emphatic singing.
The Afro-Cuban rhythms powering the title song are an absolute delight and another peak on the album. The band has fleet-footed movement as musicians – no style is frankly beyond their reach and they pull off this seeming stretch without a single note of strain showing in the songwriting or individual performances. “It’s the Beat” continues experimenting with tempos and time signatures in a more generalized way, but it’s largely a jazz/funk blend that locks into a variety of grooves throughout its duration and seamlessly shifts between each passage. The last peak on the album, “Lucky Seven”, takes on a much slower tempo than we are accustomed to Project Grand Slam pursuing, but they blend a bit of rock dynamics with jazz textures to an ideal end and the song accumulates undeniable tension as it progresses.
The Queen’s Carnival certainly lives up to Robert Miller’s hype of it being the fullest realization of Project Grand Slam’s potential to date. This is an uniquely powerful work that reflects the process of refinement over the previous three album reaching fruition at a pivotal moment. There’s so much good here that the merit likely sets the table for the band’s next decade of work. They have a formidable discography to cull from for their live work and future studio releases will likely consolidate and further refine the brilliance here.
9 out of 10 stars.