Crunchy and sizzling hot, the riff that wakes up the beast within “The One I’m Not Supposed to See” is certainly one of the more sterling on Project Grand Slam’s East Side Sessions LP, but in all actuality, it’s just a sampling of what’s to come in the eleven songs that proceed it. Oozing out of the stereo with a chic, understated swing, “Constable on Patrol” follows with an eroticized beat as inviting as any of the string-driven grooves in “It is a Miracle to Me” will be. There’s no turning back from this one-way road to heaven once you’ve started down its pleasurably melodic path; Project Grand Slam designed this album to be a trance-inducer, and they did a very fine job indeed.
“Juliet Dances” slows down the tempo from the rollicking rhythm that develops the hook in “It is a Miracle to Me,” but it isn’t lacking in the same vitality powering the three songs coming before it in the tracklist. “It Don’t Matter” brings some much-needed Latin heat into the fold only to push us into the grip of an old fashioned rock n’ roll sway in “Hey Jake,” one of my favorite songs on the record. All of the players here are following each other’s cues perfectly, and while it’s obvious that there was a lot of rehearsal involved in the buildup to recording, nothing in this material sounds robotic or inauthentic in spirit. East Side Sessions feels as real as its title would imply it should be, and that’s not something that can be said for every jazz LP hitting record store shelves this year.
Urban grooves are replaced with a mildly folky harmony in the 70’s-style “Stockbridge Fanfare,” but it isn’t until we get into the lead single “I’m Falling Off of the World” that we’re allowed to sip from the fury-filled goblet Robert Miller teased in PGS7. Marilyn Castillo wasn’t around for that album’s creation, but her vibes are definitely a good match with the style of the music in this release. She gives “The Week” a poppy crispness that I don’t think anyone else could have, while in ballads like “Tessa,” she gives as much of her heart to the audience as Miller himself does (which is truly no easy feat, if I do say so myself).
A bit of the Beatles’ legacy breaks through the surface of the sleek “I Wanna Be Your Girl,” but in the Red Dead Redemption-style “The Pardners,” I met a Project Grand Slam I had never imagined hearing, seeing or experiencing in this lifetime. It’s hard to picture a group of jazz wizards plowing through a country anthem like “The Pardners” with as much ease as this group does here, but nevertheless, they submit what could easily be the “Old Town Road” of indie jazz in 2020 here. From start to finish, Project Grand Slam’s East Side Sessions is an unexpectedly rip-roar treat that will make even long-term Millerheads raise an eyebrow, and I believe it’s undeniably one of the sweetest records of its kind you’ll discover this May.