Bassist Marcus Miller’s new CD is typical Marcus. Which means it’s not really typical at all, at least not in a traditional jazz sense. Take the opening cut, “Blast.” It’s a swinging Mid-Eastern outing, with Miller keeping things moving along with popping bass, while swirling strings and synthetic horns pound out a zesty chorus. Lalah Hathaway adds the wordless vocals, and don’t forget the smooth sax and the flamenco/Arabic guitar.
Miller continues the string-bending fest on the following “Funk Joint.” The mournful horns (including Miller on bass clarinet) and spooky organ give the song a mysterious vibe. “Free” features Corinne Bailey Rae on lead vocals in a stellar performance, with Miller’s bass once again taking center stage.
Things continue to heat up with an instrumental version of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” Miller trading licks with the horns. He keeps the funk quotient high even when essaying the blues, as on “Milky Way,” co-written by and featuring Keb’ Mo’ on vocals and guitar.
But fine as it all is, Miller’s ruthless plucking gets a bit tiresome by the time you get halfway through the disc. Or maybe it’s just that the songs start to lose that inspirational edge. Shihan The Poet’s spoken words among the Fender Rhodes and throbbing bass of “Cause I Want You” are an acquired taste at best. A shallow version of the Tower of Power classic “What Is Hip?” is another low point. More unexpected, and welcome, is a cool jazz rendition of “When I Fall In Love,” featuring Miller’s bass clarinet played in its upper register. He then solos with percolating bass à la Jaco, before Gregoire Maret’s harmonica solo, and the three taking the song to its end.
- Ross Boissoneau