This is an uniquely affecting work regardless of genre. It’s easy to survey our modern culture and, if you are a music devotee, bemoan the lack of many high profile artistic mavericks successful on their own terms. Defining maverick is easy in this context. Regardless of social taste, the real artistic maverick pursues the music he or she hears in their head, feels compelled to get it down, and brings the audience with them through sheer force of talent. Robert Miller, bassist and composer for the band Project Grand Slam, fits that bill. The latest eleven song collection from his band, The Queen’s Carnival, follows his steel-eyed muse through a bevy of musical styles while remaining tethered to a rock/jazz fusion aesthetic that produces impossibly memorable results. He has assembled a crack team of fellow artists around him to help pull it off and they serve up one delectable part after another in service to that goal.
“Beyond Forever” would be a formidable beginning for any album. The band comes roaring out of the gate, restlessly covering a variety of musical textures, and exhibiting every bit of the virtuosity that rates them among the elite in their field. The song isn’t inaccessible, however, and even total novices to the fusion genre would find much to love here. Project Grand Slam’s cover of The Kinks “You Really Got Me” breathes new life into a hoary classic, but it further illustrates the timelessness of that era in music history. The reason why a song can survive enough years in the public consciousness to be revisited in such an inventive way testifies to the song’s fundamental value. Miller and his collaborators recognize and build on this.
The Cuban-Afro polyrhythms of the title track are a welcome tempering of the desperation running through the earlier songs./ The band plays buoyantly, embracing all of the twists and bounces inherent to the style, and they execute its deceptively simple turns with all of the musical grace listeners will expect from Project Grand Slam. They shift the mood again with the next song. “Gorilla” is more of an outright stab into rock territory leavened with some colorful jazzy touches that keeps the song light on its feet. Yet another turn comes with the next track, “New Folk Song”, and their take on traditional music has a compelling cinematic quality that might catch many listeners pleasantly off guard.
“Lucky Seven” provides the band’s rock fan contingent with more meat thanks to its plodding, bass heavy approach that generates tremendous intensity. Many of the songs on The Queen’s Carnival are distinguished by their atmosphere and the ominous air around “Lucky Seven” is quite a juxtaposition with its title and hard to ignore. The album closes with a beautifully played lullaby entitled “Julesy’s Lullaby” and the warmth coming through in this brief outing brings things to a gentle close. Project Grand Slam has certainly knocked this one out of the park with such emphatic force that you won’t soon forget it.
9 out of 10 stars.