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Robert Miller’s Project Grand Slam releases “Greetings from Serbia”

Project Grand Slam has released a string of impressive albums mixing jazz rock fusion instrumentals, inventive covers, and heartfelt originals and their live album Greetings from Serbia, due to hit in January 2018, chronicles their creativity in a manner befitting their stellar reputation. The six member band includes bandleader Robert Miller on bass, Ziarra Washington on vocals, Tristan Clark on guitar, Guillermo Barron Rios supplying percussion, Joel E. Mateo on drums, Baden Goyo’s keyboards, and Mario Castro on saxophone. The current lineup has been working together for the past three years and demonstrates chops galore on the new live album, but always with stinging passion that has entertained countless audiences across the globe and likely will for years to come.

The first cut, “You Started Something”, highlights Washington’s outstanding vocal talents while thoroughly integrating her into the larger scheme of the band’s music. The rhythm section is another highlight, bursting with intelligence but never self indulgent. Nine of the ten tracks featured on Greetings from Serbia never exceed six minutes in length and burn with focused grooves that never waste a word or note. Their musical prowess is vividly evidenced by the song “1972”, a jazz rock fusion gem with some hair-raising turns along the way – despite Washington’s talent, you never miss the vocals because Project Grand Slam is quite adept at invoking melody and power through their music.

Their talents for re-envisioning classic songs comes through on “I’m So Glad”, a cover of an early Cream song, but Project Grand Slam owns this song as their own thanks to their refusal to merely ape the older version. Washington gives a glorious turn on Jack Bruce’s original singing and her energy level only rises as the song goes on. Castro’s fiery sax playing is a peak addition to the song. “Lament” is more laid back, but it isn’t any less energetic – it’s a performance with a lot of color and reflects a band quite engaged with their live material. Washington embodies intense soulfulness with her singing, but never risks cliché. The band is gloriously free from such moments.

We’re back to a more aggressive approach with “No No No” and the obvious delight Project Grand Slam takes in their work comes through most strongly here thanks to the production attributes that define performances such as these. It’s another winning performance, as well, from Washington as she belts out the vocal as if her life absolutely depended on it. The high flown jazzy inflections of “Free” sport some tasty changes showing off their ability to turn on a dime. They attack another cover with a rendition of The Who classic “I Can’t Explain” and it is a radical, yet subtlety faithful, restructuring of a classic rock stalwart. Washington invokes icon Roger Daltrey’s vocal phrasing at key points yet dominates the song with her own personality.

“The Queen’s Carnival” is one of the band’s pre-eminent studio numbers and its live counterpart doesn’t disappoint. The stomping backbeat driving the opening moments before the song segues into a classic homage to South American music quite different from what else we’ve heard thus far on Greetings from Serbia. It’s, perhaps, the keenest reminder on this album of the wild imagination Project Grand Slam brings to bear on their work and we can be sure they will be with us for a long time to come.

John McCall

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