Project Grand Slam’s is a prolific jazz and Latin-fusion band from New York City. East Side Sessions is the group’s 9th album. Featuring colliding sounds and sonic gifts, East Side Sessions stretches the listener’s imagination with an emotive touch. East Side Sessions is a 12-track album finely produced and engineered for the first time jazz listener or the seasoned jazz lover.
Bassist Robert Miller formed Project Grand Slam (PGS) in 2007. Miller previously formed 32 Records with Joel Dorn and would go onto release a series of “Jazz For…” that toped the Billboard Jazz Charts. PGS has previously shared the stage with Boney James, YES and has had residency at The Groove and Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar. The current PGS lineup is Marilyn Castillo (vocals), Alex Blade Silver (saxophone), Marcello Casagrandi and Baden Goyo (keyboards), Tristan Clark (guitar), Joel E. Mateo (drums), Guillermo Barron Rios (percussion) and of course Miller on bass.
The wall of sound really comes through with such a large band. The presence of saxophone is very strong, as is the upbeat tempo and tones. While PGS and Miller have had a history of striking lightning with cover tunes, such as “You Really Got Me” (The Kinks) in the past, East Side Sessions tallies just one cover (albeit a re-worded version) of The Beatles’ “I Wanna Be Your Girl”. With Castillo at the helm of the songs, the mood is always fresh and enchanting.
Some of the standout tracks on East Side Sessions showcase PGS’ range and the virtuosity. These include “Constable On Patrol”, “It Is A Miracle To Me”, “Juliet Dances” and “Hey Jake”. Coincidentally, these tracks are all the first half of the album, but that’s not to say the remaining half aren’t excellent. They are. These tracks just grabbed me differently at the moment.
“Constable On Patrol” has this simmering bass foundation. With little click percussion beats, and the vocals are smooth. As Castillo croons and there’s a constable on patrol, and he’s watching over your soul the listener feels like they are slipping into a slow dance. It’s a veil of seduction.
In “It Is A Miracle To Me” the Latin-Caribbean flavors melt into one. Add a little of pop and it’s a recipe for a hit. The percussion and drums have a unique tone. The bright keys dance along Castillo’s vocals. It crawls into a space, she sings. For a brief moment this song brought to mind The Killers’ “I Can’t Stay” but PGS’ song holds more depth musically.
“Juliet Dances” surprised me. I was expected something sassy, something sensual. This song is a love letter. I surmised it was a father watching his daughter not only learn to dance (ballet, tap or modern) and stumble, only to get back up. There’s a pride in the piano and Castillo’s voice is softer, gentler.
And finally, “Hey Jake” has a bit more twang, a bit more honky tonk. The saxophone is just relentlessly fun. While the song tackles bullying, the backing music is so positive. Castillo sings acting like a big shot don’t make you a man and Silver’s sax work is just bumping along. This is a dance-a-long hit!
Overall, PGS has delivered another four-star album. East Side Sessions has incredible depth. The aforementioned songs are killer, but that’s not to say songs like the timely “I’m Falling Off The World and “The Week” aren’t great. They certainly are.