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March 2011

Marcus Miller
A Night in Monte-Carlo
Concord Jazz

Miles Davis and Jaco Pastorius references, Middle Eastern influences, deep funk and lush orchestral flourishes are among the elements Marcus Miller employs on his new album, recorded live in Monaco with the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra in 2008. The superstar bassist, producer, composer and multi-instrumentalist is joined by the likes of Herbie Hancock, trumpeter Roy Hargrove, singer-guitarist Raúl Midón and turntablist DJ Logic for a rangy set of music that mixes Miller staples with pieces tailor-made for his special guests. Under different leadership, it’s an approach that might have degenerated into variety-show contrivance. Not here. In Miller’s hands, variously wrapped around fretted and fretless Fender Jazz basses and bass clarinet, the eclecticism comes off as natural and inspired.

The spirit of Miles, Miller’s one-time boss, mentor and collaborator, is here on several occasions: a moody-to-swinging take on “So What,” with the strings sketching Bill Evans’ original piano introduction and the leader turning in a ferociously funky slap-and-pop solo; a gorgeous version of the Gershwins’ “I Loves You Porgy,” during which Miller wields a fretless for the theme and a melodic, jaw-dropping solo; and “Amandla,” the Miller-penned signature tune from Miles’ 1989 album, here with rapid-fire improvisations from Hargrove, alto saxophonist Alex Han and Miller.

Miller doesn’t stay in one musical environ for long, spicing the disc with such pieces as opener “Blast!” and its fusion of world music and funk; the percussive, percolating “State of Mind”; the medley “O Mio Babbino Caro/Mas Que Nada”; and Miller’s “Your Amazing Grace,” all with Midón out front. A gorgeous version of “Strange Fruit,” with Miller’s bass clarinet sounding the theme and Hancock providing a dazzling, delicate solo, closes the disc. Hargrove, on flugelhorn, is center stage on a beautiful version of the ’40s gem “I’m Glad There Is You.” Miller’s latest is funky, yes, but awfully elegant too.

Originally published in March 2011
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