Review: Project Grand Slam – The PGS Experience

Project Grand Slam’s fifth album includes five new studio tracks recorded at East Side Sound in New York City, along with four live performances. Released by Cakewalk Records distributed by Sony/Red, it is this writer’s first experience with their music.

The tribute format is evolving into something new and exciting, and I’m fascinated by this group of top-notch musicians who rock out at a very high energy. Vocalist Ziarra Washington is a standout working alongside Mario Castro on saxophone, Marcello Casagrandi on keyboards, drummer Joel E. Mateo, Tristan Clark and Flavio Silva on guitars, Guillermo Barron Rios on percussion and Robert Miller, the leader of the band on electric bass. Featured on two of the five new studio cuts is the special guest and two-time Grammy nominee saxophonist Mindi Abair.

Abair is featured on the opening song “Metro Shuffle,” Robert Miller’s homage to his hometown of New York. It’s a funky paced instrumental with riveting sax taking the lead. “Free,” a song that iconic jam band Phish made popular, takes on a new life evolving from the original grunge sound to a smooth jazz feel here. Washington croons the light hearted vocals with harmonies from Maria Castro.

“Fishin” – which, I guess, you get when you mix “Phish” with “Free” is the second studio cut, and it again features Abair’s sax, putting the listener on an island while a calypso beat holds the party down. A cover of the Cream classic, “I’m So Glad,” which American Skip James put together on the blues delta perhaps never envisioning it would become a key moment in the band’s 1966 debut, gets a new treatment here with Washington belting the lead doing Bruce/Baker/Clapton proud.

“Gorilla,” a powerhouse rocker, has hints of Jimi Hendrix styling, the first of four live tracks which got me in the mood and will do the same for you. A new twist on the reliable Kinks mutation of the “Louie Louie” riff, “You Really Got Me,” has some reinvention with a rhythmic, slow jazz beat. Ziarra’s beautiful voice gives the lyric new meaning. The beat of the Calypso continues on “The Queen’s Carnival,” with “Fire,” following, the classic from Jimi Hendrix Experience’s iconic first album “Are You Experienced,” just in time for the 50th anniversary of this classic rock great. It’s got a cool jazz touch to it – perhaps – taking it to a place that Hendrix would appreciate five decades later. Drawing from the key 60’s power trios, Cream and the Experience is unique for a large ensemble and, as stated when this review started, charting new waters for the tribute genre, something that takes popular music from mere copying to creative reinvention.

Album and produced by Robert Miller and Lou Holtzman, it will be available for pre-order on May 26th on I-Tunes and Amazon; June 30th on cd and digital download.

Special thanks to guest contributor Ed Wrobleski for this review. Ed Wrobleski is the Host/Producer of Talking Hendrix on Wednesday evenings from 5-6 p.m. est. time