The 23 year history of the Nišville Jazz Festival, held in the Ancient Fortress of Niš, Serbia, has created its own legend as a hotbed for providing some of the most memorable festival experiences in the music world. The latest musical document bolstering its reputation, Project Grand Slam’s Greetings from Serbia, is likewise another high point for bassist Robert Miller’s outfit. The ten song live album is the band’s seventh release, following on the heels of its wildly successful predecessor Trippin’ and culls many of the album’s songs for its running order as well as mining the band’s stellar discography.
The jazz rock fusion sound they conjure has enabled them to share stages with the likes of Blues Traveler, Yes, and Edgar Winter, among others, so they clearly bring the goods like only a top flight live outfit can. The opener “You Started Something” charges forward with crackling energy – the rhythm section and brass attack is the song’s musical foundation, including dazzling transitions, but the vocals also reach towards the sky with soulful power. “1972” has a distinctly funkier edge thanks to the guitar work and a popping bass line. Miller, a longtime musical powerhouse, first became entranced with music’s possibilities during the halcyon days of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, embracing the late Jack Bruce and others among his musical heroes, so this tune undoubtedly works as a homage to those influences – as well as still being vital, rather than some exclusively retro exercise.
The band covers Cream’s classic “I’m So Glad”, a classic cut from the aforementioned Bruce’s super group with drummer Ginger Baker and guitarist Eric Clapton, but “cover” hardly does this performance justice. Instead, this is a wholesale recasting of the song as a fire breathing musical showcase with more vocal pyrotechnics courtesy of Ziarra Washington matching the breathless musical pace. It’s mightily impressive how the band’s five musicians weave an uncluttered tapestry of sound, playing as an unit rather than a collection of virtuosos – the free, airy bounce of “No No No” will have listeners bobbing their head from the outset and guitarist Tristan Clark stands out with some particularly tasty six string playing.
The band strikes deep into listener’s consciousness with another instrumental, “Gorilla”, full of jazzy dynamics. Miller’s bass playing is definitely a force in every performance, but it’s telling how his band first aesthetic, a hallmark of any truly great musician, enlivens their overall approach. This isn’t a one man show – far from it. They serve up another brilliant cover with a take on The Who classic “I Can’t Explain” and Washington tackles another vocal with variety and passion. The album’s finale, a smashing performance of their Hendrix classic “Fire” that even tosses in some affectionate quotes of another Hendrix classic, “Voodoo Chile” – it’s a show stopper, as well, thanks to the band stretching out their cover to just a bit over seven minutes. Project Grand Slam is life affirming, celebratory, and Greetings from Serbia will begin the band’s 2019 on quite a high point.
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