You can read a brief history of New
York-based Project Grand Slam on their
I want to get on and tell you about their sophomore
album ‘Spring Dance’.
The title track, which also opens the album, is an
ensemble piece with some very lively brass – it’s almost a big band
sound. And I mean that in the most complimentary way: there really is
a lot of energy in this instrumental tune and I can imagine its
reception at gigs must be great. As the song opens out, it takes on a
gospel tinge and my comment about a good live song gets reinforced.
The heavily-processed vocals on the intro to ‘Joe Z’ and some heavy
African influences point to a homage to Joe Zawinul. This certainly
is nowhere close to ‘smooth jazz’ and some muscular drumming and a
great Rhodes solo underline that.
I’m a huge fan of records where the artist can take you
through changes of mood and pace. ‘Ma Petite Fleur’ could scarcely be
more different from the previous song. Some very soulful piano and
soprano sax, plus that lazy waltz time make this a very classy
production. Strands of gospel weave in and out of the piano solo – I
just love it! The breathy tenor sax that opens the vocal ‘Remember’
is truly soulful. Guest vocalist Joye Hennessey delivers a pleading
lead vocal and there’s something in her delivery that makes me think
we’ll hear much more from her.
The funky ‘Catch you Later’ has a strong cinematic
element in there. I know that songs from their first CD were featured
in an NBC TV show and I can already hear this song (in my head)
featured in a very hip US show sometime soon. Folks will love the
groove and that provocative brass swell that introduces each verse.
Blues fans, lend your ear to ‘The Turn’ when the tenor sax sings over
what can only be described as a classic jazz trio setting.
For the ultimate in hooks, check ‘Flat Busted’. I love
the swing it has, the great flute sound on the chorus and another
sweet Rhodes solo courtesy of Mike Eckroth. Everything on this tune
is right! I’m never afraid to pick out a favourite tune from a
CD – and this is it! Any band that covers ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My
Brother’ has to be brave, especially if they throw in some unexpected
minor chords and lovely female lead and background vocals. The drum
sound on this song is very ‘live’ and it wouldn’t surprise me at all
to know this was a one-take deal to get as much emotion into the song
as possible. Enjoy! The closer, an instrumental version of
‘Remember’ pulls the tenor sax even more sharply into focus. The
string lines that accompany it are tastefully arranged and despite its
overall bluesy feel, I can’t help smiling as I listen to it. There is
an uplifting edge to it that a deeper listen will reveal.
A great example of a contemporary jazz band doing
something different. There’s compositional talent and performing
talent that’s just not in dispute. There’s also more than a nod to
tradition, with some big band, blues, jazz, gospel and soul influences
that combine seamlessly to create a very satisfying record. I liked
it more the second time I heard it than the first – for me that’s
always a great sign!
Cakewalk Records. Producer – Ron Thaler