Project Grand Slam – The Queen’s Carnival
Typically operating as five piece, Project Grand Slam, led by bassist and composer Robert Miller, plays like a much larger band. They have somehow managed to balance a muscular sound while maintaining a firm control over the material and never pushing anything to an overwrought level. The production on their fourth album The Queen’s Carnival is every bit as immaculate as their preceding releases and captures a remarkably live sound despite the occasionally spontaneity crushing atmosphere of a recording studio. Like previous releases, Project Grand Slam maintains a primarily instrumental focus and the album’s eleven tracks never have a moment of filler or run too long. This is a masterfully composed work, never uncertain of itself, and has an overarching sense of construction not typically heard on works from its musical area. In some senses, it is a throwback to the way albums were written and recorded during Miller’s formative years, but Project Grand Slam’s music and presentation are thoroughly modern sounding in every way.
They are quite capable of bowling listeners over with their musical firepower. “Beyond Forever” may leave some slightly shell-shocked by its conclusion – it’s jammed packed with dizzying instrumental turns, passages of ferocious intensity, and memorable melodic strengths. “The Rescue” is an equally intense instrumental that, arguably, stays more in the middle of the road regarding tempo and propulsive force, but it would have worked just as well as the album opener and has undeniably energetic freshness. The same freshness pervades their cover of “You Really Got Me”. It is safe and undoubtedly a little cliché to say that the original songwriter, Ray Davies, would have never imagined his lean and unadorned rocker transformed into a dense, multi-layered rock/jazz fusion gem. “Gorilla” moves the band into a decidedly rockier mode than ever before, but hybridizing his musical pedigree is first and foremost for Miller’s ambitions, so the song never entirely abandons its jazzy influences. The album’s title song will have a lot of fans. Miller and his creative partners sound completely at home with the intensely rhythmic and precise material and a measure of that comfort can be heard in their effortless swing.
“New Folk Song” has all of the element listeners might associate with folk songs, but Project Grand Slam’s sensibilities superimposed over the music amplifies everything, inflates it, and makes it an unlikely and highly entertaining theatrical experience. “Lucky Seven” is one of the album’s more interesting musical adventures thanks to the band’s surprisingly slow tempo, the space they create in the arrangement, and the gathering power that eventually overwhelms the listener. It’s a real sleeper on the album because it comes so late, but it might be the band’s best expression of the genre blend they are looking to achieve. Project Grand Slam’s latest album reeks of ambition, but you can’t say they don’t pull it off. There isn’t a single false note struck here and, ultimately, the merits of the album are undeniable to even the most jaded of listeners.
9 out of 10 stars.