If you follow the jazz underground regularly, then you’ve probably already heard quite a bit about Project Grand Slam over the last decade. Their work has been hard to miss – the Robert Miller-fronted band has yet to slow down in their efforts to marry potent melodicism with a poetic jazz simplicity that has been harder and harder to track down in the mainstream and indie circles alike in recent times, and their most recent album It’s Alive! is already getting as much buzz as any LP to come before it.
It’s Alive! is, as its title tells us, a live album, but it isn’t stylized around a singular concert theme other than the experimentations of Project Grand Slam themselves. Classic tracks like “Fire,” “The One I’m Not Supposed to See,” “I’m So Glad,” and “I Can’t Explain” get the second life that we didn’t even know they had in them nor needed, and whether you’re a big fan of the furious fusion that this band makes their living on or not, you’re bound to feel something from the thirteen songs this amazing new record contains.
You don’t have to be a professional music critic to feel the connection that these musicians have when listening to the songs “The Queen’s Carnival,” “Redemption Road,” “At Midnight,” and “No No No;” the emotion in each of these tracks is simply too profound a force to be reckoned with not to notice. The intimacy goes well beyond the lyrics, and I enjoy the instrumental depth of tunes like “I Can’t Explain,” Yeah Yeah,” and “Aches and Pains” despite their black-and-white production style.
The passionate play in “Lament” is telling us a greater story that linguistic poetry can only capture so well before giving in to the pressure of the melodic weight, and though I wouldn’t call any of these songs FM-focused, there’s enough polish in the master mix to make most of this content accessible for a college radio-oriented jazz audience. This is the flesh-and-blood PGS, and there’s no debating that when listening to any of the tracks here.
If you’ve never heard the work of Project Grand Slam before, I think that It’s Alive! is about the best formal introduction you’re going to be able to hear before the year 2023 has concluded. In this effort, the group isn’t competing for nor trying to find an audience that is theirs and theirs alone; they have reached a place where they can set the standard through the conceptualism their material is filtered through.
Modernity aside, these artists know exactly who and what kind of an act they want to be, and no matter which direction they take their sound in after the success of It’s Alive!, I think this LP has the potential to stand out as being their most endearing and passionately performed from beginning to end. No matter how you look at this record, I think PGS fans and incoming listeners are going to walk away equally intrigued and beguiled by yet another win for the one and only Robert Miller.