Welcome to the latest issue of Denis Poole’s Secret Garden, the page that offers a British perspective on the very best from the world of smooth jazz and classic soul. Some releases are more special than others and when an artist of Marcus Miller’s stature steps up with a new offering then its time to take notice. Marcus is the Grammy-winning bass supremo’s seventh studio album and is every bit as eclectic as one would expect from someone who has done everything and worked with everybody. Indeed, the varieties and shades that Miller has been able to combine into this diverse thirteen track selection seems to be a perfect culmination of what is now, for him, thirty plus years in almost every aspect of the business.
Performing from an early age and, as a teenager, writing music for Lonnie Liston Smith, Miller has appeared as a bassist on over five hundred albums including discs by such artists as Joe Sample, Wayne Shorter, Donald Fagen, Chaka Khan, McCoy Tyner, Mariah Carey, Bill Withers, Elton John, Bryan Ferry, Frank Sinatra, and LL Cool J. He has toured with Miles Davis and continues to be a ‘first call’ studio musician in his home town of New York.
As a producer Miller was responsible for David Sanborn’s Grammy winning Voyeur, the follow ups Close Up and Upfront plus another Grammy winner, the 2000 Inside. He has also produced for Miles Davies, Al Jarreau, the Crusaders, Wayne Shorter, Take 6, Chaka Khan, Kenny Garrett and Luther Vandross with whom he had a musical relationship that started out when they met in Roberta Flack's band and endured right through to Luther’s untimely death.
Miller stepped center stage in 1993 with the release of his solo album The Sun Don't Lie. Tales followed in 1995 and Live & More was released in 1997. M2, his first release of the new millennium, won the 2001 Grammy for Best Contemporary Jazz Album and was selected by Jazziz as one of the 10 Best CDs of the Year.
Now, with the soul and R & B inspired Marcus, he has got another winner on his hands. Miller includes seven of his own compositions and each of them encapsulates the funkiness for which his playing is famous. The opening track, ‘Blast!’ is a perfect of example of his art which, despite its distinctly Moroccan vibe, is pure funk throughout. Equally so is the aptly titled ‘Funk Joint’ and when Keb Mo steps up on vocals for the streetwise groove of ‘Milky Way’ the result is an urban gem of great quality. Much the same can be said of ‘Cause I Want You’. This hypnotic chiller features spoken word vocalist Shihan The Poet and incredible backing vocals from Ulisa, Kenya, Tavia and the Ivey Sisters. In fact guest artists abound and Lalah Hathaway, who featured on Miller’s previous CD Silver Rain, contributes both as co-writer and performer for the sassy ‘Ooh’. It’s a tune that is further illuminated by Gregoire Maret on harmonica who returns again and again to both enthrall and delight.
Perhaps the best of Miller’s own compositions is the intoxicating ‘Strum’. Tom Scott is huge on sax, Paul Jackson Jr his usual excellent self on guitar and with more great harmonica from Maret they merge to deliver a song that is seriously infectious. Miller uses another of his own songs, ‘Pluck’ as the funky bridge to what is arguably the albums best track. ‘Lost Without U’ by Robin Thicke proved to be a tremendous urban hit and it says much about Miller’s interpretation that it easily surpasses the original. With more sumptuous backing vocals and additional ad libs from Hathaway it is clearly destined to be one of the best covers of the year yet completely different but just as good is the magical ‘When I Fall In Love’. Maret again weaves some of his special magic and with Miller taking the lead on both clarinet and bass they together create a timeless masterpiece of immense beauty.
Clarinet is again Millers chosen instrument for ‘What Is Hip?’ and this stunning version of Tower of Power’s 1973 success is further enhanced by the sax of David Sanborn. He stays on to add a jazzy vibe to Miller’s exceptional version of the Deniece Williams classic ‘Free’ for which Corinne Bailey Rae’s understated vocal works to perfection. Miller gets back on the funky track for his take on Stevie Wonder’s ‘Higher Ground’ and retraces familiar steps for the Miles Davis composition ‘Jean Pierre’. All the more notable is the fact that the 1981 album We Want Miles, from which this tune originally came, featured a young Marcus Miller on bass.
As contemporary jazz moves into a distinctly urban phase of its evolution Marcus Miller is, not for the first time, showing himself to be right on the cutting edge. Marcus is an album with something in it for everyone and comes highly recommended.Posted by Denis Poole at March 15, 2008 9:21 AM