“You Started Something” is quite a beginning to Project Grand Slam’s Greetings from Serbia. I can scarcely believe how much is going on musically in this song, yet this six piece band weaves their instrumental attack together with airy and accessible sophistication. Vocalist Ziarra Washington tops the first song off with a passionate and technically on point vocal – you never feel like she’s singing “over” the band but, instead, weaving her voice into the music as well. Founding member and band leader Robert Miller shows off his bass playing talents with the same ear towards integrating his skills with drummer Joel E. Mateo in a way that gives the song an effortless forward thrust. “1972” takes listeners back to the past in a way, but Project Grand Slam’s fusion of jazz and rock does more than merely imitate – it refurbishes the sound for their present audience without ever sounding cookie cutter. Tristan Clark is a valuable contributor to the song’s success as well.
One of my personal favorites on the album is Project Grand Slam’s cover of “I’m So Glad”, first made famous by sixties legends Cream, and recalls one of Robert Miller’s early loves, Cream bassist Jack Bruce. Project Grand Slam unleashes a torrid version of the song particularly distinguished by Ziarra Washington’s vocal. I think it’s remarkable to hear her blaze away through a song recorded long before her birth; she shows immense confidence and comfort going through this, but her passion for the song is equally notable. They pull back on the reins a little with the song “Lament”, striking a low key note in comparison with the earlier performances, and Mario Castro stands out here with his saxophone playing. Washington makes my heart flutter a bit with her reading of the lyrics – she makes this musical moment sound like it is something she lived through and the performance provides her genuine cantharis.
Mateo’s drumming on “No No No” is propulsive and never misses a single beat while Miller provides fluid bass that will dizzy many listeners. This is a song packed with high points – they move from a largely straightforward attack during the first half into a wild instrumental break during the second part. “Free” brings Baden Goyo’s keyboards out with understated flash bringing a lot of color to an already vivid performance, but there’s a lot of melody present as well. Tristan Clark plays with aggression on other songs, but shows us a lighter touch with this tune.
Two more other covers of iconic tracks stand out – “I Can’t Explain” and “Fire”. Clark’s aforementioned inflamed guitar comes blasting out during “I Can’t Explain” and the band’s churning rearrangement of The Who classic remains close to the original, particularly with Miller’s bass runs, but Project Grand Slam are never too reverential. “Fire” goes back to Jimi Hendrix and throws in some “Voodoo Child” for good measure. It’s a joy to hear how enthusiastic Ziarra Washington is even this late in the show, but the band keeps their energy level burning high as well. Project Grand Slam played at the prestigious Nišville Jazz Festival for the recording of this live release, located in the Ancient Fortress of Niš, Serbia, but their particular brand of musical excellence translates across any border on Greetings from Serbia.
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