Certain members of the Jazz Police won’t like this album. “Too busy,” they’ll say. “Too much bass.” So what? Afrodeezia, bass virtuoso Marcus Miller’s latest disc, is by turns joyous, introspective, funky, and yes, jazzy.
“Hylife” kicks off the proceedings, which are reminiscent of the highlife rhythms of West Africa. African musicians guest alongside Miller’s core band. Solos by trumpeter Lee Hogans and pianist Brett Williams offset the chanted vocals. “B’s River” opens with Miller doubling on bass guitar and gimbri, an African gut-string bass. This time, it’s Etienne Charles’ trumpet that invigorates the tune. “Preacher’s Kid” features a vocal choir and Miller’s exquisite bass clarinet. On the exuberant “We Were There,” the horns alternately provide melody and contrast Miller’s furious bass licks. Lalah Hathaway’s scat vocals add yet another color.
Miller doesn’t hold back, and his bass is often front-and-center. On both “B’s River” and “Xtraordinary,” his solos are alternately blistering, stirring and heartfelt. The latter tune, a tribute to fellow bassist Wayman Tisdale, presents Miller playing kalimba, or African thumb piano, and features a vocal choir.
While there’s no question that this is Miller’s album, he leaves plenty of room for other players. Ben Hong’s cello shines on Bizet’s mournful “I Still Believe I Hear.” Adam Agati’s guitar and Robert Greenridge’s steel pans create the focal points on “Son of Macbeth,” written for the late percussionist Ralph McDonald. And rap legend Chuck D’s powerful performance on the closing “I Can’t Breathe” — a reaction to the recent spate of young black men killed by police officers — wends through vigorous sonorities provided by multi-instrumentalists Miller and Mocean Worker, who manage to conjure a full band between them. —Ross Boissoneau