REVIEW: Marcus Miller – Marcus

More than three decades after first bursting onto the New York music scene, Grammy-winning bassist Marcus Miller is still a vibrant presence in R&B and jazz. At any particular point in time he might be functioning as a producer, composer, arranger, or performer — and sometimes all at once. That’s the case with his newest album – his first for Concord – which is simply titled Marcus.

Miller is a talented multi-instrumentalist who is not only skilled on electric bass, but also keyboards, clarinet, sax, sitar and probably a few more besides. Just about everything shows up on his seventh solo album, a 13-track collection that’s top-heavy with his own compositions — not that there’s anything wrong with that.

He’s joined by some talented friends too. It’s an outstanding group that includes vocalists the caliber of Keb’ Mo’, Corinne Bailey Rae and Lalah Hathaway. Other performers include Shihan the Poet, jazz icon David Sanborn, and actress Taraji Henson (who made her singing debut in the movie Hustle and Flow).

Henson’s vocalizing on the bonus track, “Lost Without U [Spoken Word],” backed by Hathaway and the Ivey Sisters, is surprisingly enjoyable, and is a different take on Hathaway’s earlier version of the same tune. Hathaway is at her best with “Ooh,” a piece she co-wrote with Miller, and according to the album notes he backs her delicious singing with no less than seven different instruments.

I also enjoyed “Milky Way,” which not only brings us more of Miller’s virtuosity but also the strong, authentic blues voice of Keb’ Mo’, who – not content to just sing – also takes over as lead guitar. Miller is still a strong presence though, and the two legends play off each other in one of the best tracks on the album.

Good stuff, and the same could be said for “Free,” the single that’s getting the most attention on this album. It’s a Deniece Williams song that’s turned into a showpiece for the smooth, soulful voice of Corinne Bailey Rae. For added value on the track, we can experience Miller playing everything from bass to Moog synthesizer, along with Sanborn doing his thing on alto sax — and you don’t get much better than that.

There’s lots more to be found here – even Shihan the Poet, if that’s your thing – but the bottom line is simply that the album is a good collection of R&B flavored jazz that should be well worth a listen for any fans of good music — and isn’t that why we’re all here?

Sound samples available at artist’s Myspace.

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