MARCUS MILLER, RENAISSANCE

A long time ago I would go to hear bassist Marcus Miller play at Seventh Avenue South, a Village jazz club owned by the Brecker Brothers, and at that time jazz fusion was super hot and Miller helped feed the fire. He was one of the coolest players on the scene and in a way, he still is. His career has flourished, enabling him to add songwriter, bandleader and producer-extraordinaire to his business card. Not only did Miller re-shape and define Miles Davis in his late period (“Tutu,” “Amandla”), his collaborations with David Sanborn and Luther Vandross made each of them superstars in their respective jazz and pop fields. Miller’s production work and guest appearances on many albums is often categorized as smooth jazz, yet his personal work encompasses more genuine jazz and authentic turns from both veteran musicians and up-and-comers.

Release of the Miles Davis stamp on June 28, 2012.
 Marcus is on the right; Herbie Hancock on left. Photo by Lawrence Ho, LA Times
“Renaissance” (Concord Jazz) finds him mixing it up with frontline trumpeters Sean Jones and Maurice Brown, alto sax player Alex Han, drummer Louis Cato, guitarists Adam Agati and Adam Rogers, and the 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition Award winner pianist Kris Bowers, plus guest vocals from Ruben Blades and Gretchen Parlato on a fizzy remake of Ivan Lins “Setembro.”  This is hard-core soul jazz, as articulate as it is funky, with a heavy dose of Miller-kissed covers like Janelle Monae’s infectious “Tightrope” (with Dr. John on vocals) and the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There.”  The tastiest bass and deepest grooves are found on the title track, a superb jazz-fusion cut ripe with thick rhythms as well as a pounding, head-bobbing take of WAR’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” The band is locked in tight on the riff heavy “Mr. Clean,” a track delightfully full of grade-A beats as is the wicked good “Jekyll & Hyde.” The album’s highlight is Miller’s clever “Cee-Tee-Eye,” a thumping tribute to the CTI label and a grand, musical salute complete with shivery horn solos ala Freddie Hubbard and Grover Washington, and a Fender Rhodes turn by Bowers who conjures up an ersatz Bob James solo from back in the day – it’s as if he time traveled decades before he was born to learn it.

His international acclaim and reputation along with his nurturing of confident, younger players like Han (his energized sound is a sleek blend of Cannonball Adderley and Sanborn) elevates Miller to new heights. Indeed, “Renaissance” is his most cohesive recording. The band is superb – props go to Miller’s keyboardist Federico Gonzalez Pena as well – and Miller’s conversations on the bass go beyond what you’ve heard previously. If you can, try to hunt down a pricy import “Marcus Miller” Tutu Revisited” featuring trumpeter Christian Scott to hear a variation on the tunes originally made for Miles Davis. (13 tracks; 70 minutes)  www.marcusmiller.com (Note: A version of this review appears in the August 2012 issue of ICON Magazine in a slightly condensed form) www.iconmagazineonline.com

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JAZZ IN SPACE: MARCUS MILLER, RENAISSANCE

Thursday, August 2, 2012

MARCUS MILLER, RENAISSANCE

A long time ago I would go to hear bassist Marcus Miller play at Seventh Avenue South, a Village jazz club owned by the Brecker Brothers, and at that time jazz fusion was super hot and Miller helped feed the fire. He was one of the coolest players on the scene and in a way, he still is. His career has flourished, enabling him to add songwriter, bandleader and producer-extraordinaire to his business card. Not only did Miller re-shape and define Miles Davis in his late period (“Tutu,” “Amandla”), his collaborations with David Sanborn and Luther Vandross made each of them superstars in their respective jazz and pop fields. Miller’s production work and guest appearances on many albums is often categorized as smooth jazz, yet his personal work encompasses more genuine jazz and authentic turns from both veteran musicians and up-and-comers.

Release of the Miles Davis stamp on June 28, 2012.
 Marcus is on the right; Herbie Hancock on left. Photo by Lawrence Ho, LA Times
“Renaissance” (Concord Jazz) finds him mixing it up with frontline trumpeters Sean Jones and Maurice Brown, alto sax player Alex Han, drummer Louis Cato, guitarists Adam Agati and Adam Rogers, and the 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition Award winner pianist Kris Bowers, plus guest vocals from Ruben Blades and Gretchen Parlato on a fizzy remake of Ivan Lins “Setembro.”  This is hard-core soul jazz, as articulate as it is funky, with a heavy dose of Miller-kissed covers like Janelle Monae’s infectious “Tightrope” (with Dr. John on vocals) and the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There.”  The tastiest bass and deepest grooves are found on the title track, a superb jazz-fusion cut ripe with thick rhythms as well as a pounding, head-bobbing take of WAR’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness.” The band is locked in tight on the riff heavy “Mr. Clean,” a track delightfully full of grade-A beats as is the wicked good “Jekyll & Hyde.” The album’s highlight is Miller’s clever “Cee-Tee-Eye,” a thumping tribute to the CTI label and a grand, musical salute complete with shivery horn solos ala Freddie Hubbard and Grover Washington, and a Fender Rhodes turn by Bowers who conjures up an ersatz Bob James solo from back in the day – it’s as if he time traveled decades before he was born to learn it.

His international acclaim and reputation along with his nurturing of confident, younger players like Han (his energized sound is a sleek blend of Cannonball Adderley and Sanborn) elevates Miller to new heights. Indeed, “Renaissance” is his most cohesive recording. The band is superb – props go to Miller’s keyboardist Federico Gonzalez Pena as well – and Miller’s conversations on the bass go beyond what you’ve heard previously. If you can, try to hunt down a pricy import “Marcus Miller” Tutu Revisited” featuring trumpeter Christian Scott to hear a variation on the tunes originally made for Miles Davis. (13 tracks; 70 minutes)  www.marcusmiller.com (Note: A version of this review appears in the August 2012 issue of ICON Magazine in a slightly condensed form) www.iconmagazineonline.com

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