In baseball, a "grand slam" is a home run with the bases loaded. In tennis and golf, the term refers to the four major annual global tournaments. In jazz, the term refers to the bold jazz fusion sound of the melodic and grooving ensemble Project Grand Slam. Led by bassist/composer Robert Miller, PGS reunited in the studio four years after their critically acclaimed debut album Play, and is ready to roll all summer and beyond with Spring Dance, their dynamic new collection on
"The essence of where we are as a group, and where I am personally in my life, is captured in the title track of the album, with its upbeat, feel-good vibe," says Miller, who penned Spring Dance and four other tunes on the album. "It's got that PGS thing going on melody, groove and improvisation. We're not smooth jazz and we're not classic jazz. We're all about strong melodies and great playing. We want the music to excite our listeners."
In 2007, Miller, a renowned contemporary jazz solo recording artist, formed Project Grand Slam, and enlisted Haim Cotton on keyboards, Ron Thaler on drums, and Gilad Ronen on saxophones. Their debut album, Play, released in 2008, was produced by Frank Filipetti (who won the Album of the Year Grammy for James Taylor's "Hourglass"), and included a cover of the Swiss pop duo Double's 1986 pop hit, "The Captain of Her Heart," sung by guest vocalist, veteran British singer/songwriter Judie Tzuke; the new version became a Top 20 jazz radio hit. Even more impressive, five of the tracks from Play, along with the band itself (with Miller having a speaking role), were prominently featured in an episode of the hit NBC-TV series "Lipstick Jungle," starring Brooke Shields. PGS did several live performances at clubs in NYC in addition to a charity show for the
Ronald McDonald House.
Three years later, Miller's longtime friend, Lou Holtzman, suggested that he reunite PGS and record a new album at his renowned NYC facility EastSide Sound. This time around Miller invited Mike Eckroth, keyboardist for guitar legend John Scofield, and alto sax man Danny Lerman to complement the core trio. They also added Joye Hennessey, a New Zealand based wonder, for a couple of vocals After a few days of rehearsal, the new PGS convened in the studio and nailed the basic tracks in a week, with most songs done in two or three takes. After some overdubs, Justin Smith was brought in to sweeten some of the tracks with strings.
"I had five tunes", said Miller, adding: "Gilad had two and Joye Hennessey suggested the cover of He Ain't Heavy,' and she did
an incredible job on it, almost like
Mariah Carey singing jazz!"
In addition to the title tune, Miller's songs include the Joe Zawinal tribute "Joe Z," a high energy blast that brings to mind the fiery fusion magic of Weather Report, complete with exotic chanting and old school keyboards; the sensual and elegant soprano sax led ballad "Ma Petite Fleur," a piece Miller dedicates to his wife and that he calls his favorite on the collection; the brass-fired, classic blues-funk explosion "Catch You Later"; and "Flat Busted," an in-the-pocket, mid tempo grooving urban jazz tune featuring Ronen's hypnotic flute runs. Ronen and Hennessey's "Remember" is featured first as a dramatic and soulful, longing romantic vocal (highlighted by strings and an emotional sax solo) and, as a coda to Spring Dance, a thoughtful and reflective instrumental that evolves into a percussive, easy rolling, rhythmically engaging samba. Ronen also composed the ambient, slightly melancholy ballad "The Turn," which featured a smoky sax melody and soaring horn textures.
Miller's debut project as leader, Child's Play (Wildcat Records 1994) included performances by Randy Brecker, Jon Lucien and Anton Fig; his follow up Prisoners of Love was released on 32 Records (1996), a label Miller co-founded that became famous in the late 90s for the "Jazz For?" series of compilation recordings (Jazz For a Rainy Afternoon, Jazz For The Quiet Time, etc.) that dominated the Billboard Jazz charts and sold well over one million units. His band, The Robert Miller Group, played all the major New York area clubs, graduating to the national festival circuit where they appeared with artists like Bruce Hornsby, Bela Fleck and Kenny Barron.
"For me," says Miller, "the great pleasure of Project Grand Slam is having the opportunity to be part of the process of bringing my compositions to life in an ensemble setting. Writing is a very solitary exercise, but it's exciting to add the group touch to my songs. It was also wonderful to take He Ain't Heavy' to places it had never been before. We also love the fact that it's not an overly produced record and it sounds as organic as we intended. We've all been around making music a long time,
and the result is very exciting."?
When is the last time a jazz ensemble named after the nefarious scheme of a James Bond villain packed such a solidly melodic and grooving punch Project Grand Slam, named by leader Robert Miller as a play on "Goldfinger"'s plan to steal all the gold from Fort Knox, is probably the first-and he and PGS are up to plenty of melodic and grooving wonder this summer on Spring Dance, their explosive new album on Cakewalk Records.
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In baseball, a "grand slam" is a home run with the bases loaded. In tennis and golf, the term refers to the four major annual global tournaments. In jazz, the term refers to the bold jazz fusion sound of the melodic and grooving ensemble Project Grand Slam. Led by bassist/composer Robert Miller, PGS reunited in the studio four years after their critically acclaimed debut album Play, and is ready to roll all summer and beyond with Spring Dance, their dynamic new collection on Cakewalk Records. Spring Dance is generating humble attention from jazz audiophiles around the internet. Dana Wright of muzikreviews.com states "From pure instrumental to upbeat jazz movements and vocals, they have crafted an album that jazz enthusiasts will be sure to enjoy."
Like all of us, Project Grand Slam were horrified to learn of the sexual abuse allegations connected with the former Penn State football coach. While in the midst of completing their new album, they realized that "He Ain't Heavy, He's My Brother" was particularly appropriate to the scandal, as the song's title was the motto for Father Flannigan's Boys Town charity, which was created to help disadvantaged and abused children. The song's message of support for victims and the abused is consistent with Penn State's healing efforts following, and proceeds from the song will be donated to benefit the victims of child abuse.