Jazz fusion, the marriage of jazz with popular song structures like those found in rock music, has fallen into mainstream disrepute. For one shining period in the 1970’s, acts like Weather Report, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Jeff Beck challenged the limits of rock and jazz while managing to integrate them into a hybrid of unique range and power. Let’s be grateful that Project Grand Slam bassist and bandleader Robert Miller listened and learned from this time. Miller and his surrounding cast of elite musicians have assimilated wisdom gleaned from a lifetime in and around music to create top flight of modern fusion. “Fire”, the first single from their new forthcoming album, is a cover of the venerable Jimi Hendrix rock classic and shows new, perhaps unexpected, sides to this fine band.
There’s always a level of risk in tackling covers. Unlike an original composition, covering songs gives listeners a standard for measuring your success and failure that’s often nonsensical and severe. Many expect covers that reproduce the original faithfully for a modern audience while others, arguably more discriminating, will lambast bands and singers who attempt slavishly imitating their predecessor. Moreover, when a band covers iconic material like “Fire”, a broadcast radio staple to this day, they are cutting against decades of history in a frequently doomed attempt to claim some piece of the song for themselves. If Project Grand Slam felt any butterflies tackling such hallowed material, it never shows.
They recast the song as a neo-funk excursion with strong R&B overtones. The arrangement retains Hendrix’s simple but memorable riff, but de-empathizes it in favor of a more comprehensive approach. Project Grand Slam demonstrates impressive chemistry, but it’s something quantifiable, not the shadowy stirrings of some supernatural bond between musicians. Instead, it’s clear that this is a band full of listeners, attentive players who hear each other and tailor their musical dialogue accordingly.
Not far removed from her successful run on NBC’s The Voice, guest vocalist Kat Robichaud provides icing on this memorable confection. Her voice brims over with enough innate musicality, sultriness, and phrasing skill to round off the song’s entertaining transformation from booming rocker into something subtler and altogether spellbinding. The direct passion of the lyrics becomes an invitation here, a clever subversion of Hendrix’s initial intent. Instead of the pursued possessing all the power in this equation, Robichaud’s aching voice commands your attention.
Project Grand Slam scores big with this inspiring revision of a long-acknowledged classic. Not merely content with relying on Hendrix’s proven approach, Project Grand Slam and guest star Robichaud stake out new territory for this track and update it for a modern audience. They prove that it’s possible to pour old wine into new bottles while not losing any of its intoxicating power. “Fire” is an alluring sample of Project Grand Slam’s latest work and offers further evidence, if any is needed, that this is a musical collective on the rise.
Purchase Link: https://itunes.apple.com/us/album/fire-single/id1024863009