With five of its thirteen tracks already having been featured on the hit NBC series ‘Lipstick Jungle’ the debut album, ‘Play’, from contemporary jazz collective Project Grand Slam is off to a flying start. Project Grand Slam is in fact the collaboration of Robert Miller, Haim Cotton, Ron Thaler and Gilad Ronen. While individually they have performed with artists such as Sarah McLachlan, Rob Thomas, Taj Mahal, Alicia Keys, and Herbie Hancock their coming together has delivered an eclectic mix of eleven self penned tunes plus, paradoxically, one of the best cover versions of the year so far.
The album opens with the jazzy ‘Studio One’ which is thoughtful yet uplifting all in one. It is one of the tracks used on ‘Lipstick Jungle’ and in this respect is in the company of the complex ‘Out of Tahini’, the bluesy but raucous ‘Ode To Jerry’ and ‘Heat 2007’ which again gives sax-man Gilad Ronen the chance to cut loose. Perhaps the best of the ‘Lipstick’ cuts is the groovy ‘Riding The Berks’ where Ronen’s interplay with Haim Cotton on piano is a joy but truth to tell Haim’s standout playing is a feature throughout.
Because much of the collection is dominated by hard driving sax the respite that the mellow ‘Because She Said So’ brings is a delight. More of that same gentle magic comes courtesy of ‘Baal HaSulam’ and in similar vein is ‘Shades Of Memories’ where, although the bass of Robert Miller and drums from Ron Thaler keeps the entire piece superbly anchored, Ronen ultimately drives it to a stirring conclusion. Both ‘Portrait Of Katie’ and ‘Doin’ The Worm’ have that typical Project Grand Slam ‘in your face’ beat but the real gem of the collection is the bands cover version of Double’s 1986 hit ‘Captain Of Your Heart’. Delivered in both instrumental and vocal form this latter interpretation is blessed by the wonderful voice of Judie Tzuke who had an international hit with her seminal ‘Stay With Me Till Dawn’.
That said the Smooth Jazz Therapy top track is ‘Harry Knuckles’. With an intro distinctly reminiscent of ‘Inner City Blues’ from Grover Washington it quickly finds its feet as a horn infused spectacular the likes of which Jerry Hey would be proud.
Produced in the main by the legendary Frank Filipetti who garnered a Grammy Award for his work on James Taylor’s ‘Hourglass’ project, ‘Play’ is a great album for those who enjoy contemporary jazz that is not too smooth.
For more go to the Project Grand Slam website at www.projectgrandslam.com