Fastest, most melodic thumb in jazz-funk or not—and on many days, he deserves that title—bassist-producer-composer Marcus Miller wields that digit in a manner that’s impossible to ignore. He does that instantly identifiable thing he does with great panache and high musicality from the get-go on Renaissance, his first studio recording since 2008’s Marcus.
Title aside, Miller’s latest is more about the new old-school than the new new-school. That is, he nods to the ’70s, starting with the deep funk of “Detroit,” a bass-out-front piece that often has the leader playing in unison with guitarist Adam Agati and two horn players, alto saxophonist Alex Han and trumpeter Maurice Brown. The music of the aforementioned decade is also alive on “CEE-TEE-EYE,” a partial homage to the jazz-rock crossover of Creed Taylor’s CTI label; a lively take on War’s “Slippin’ Into Darkness,” bolstered by the percussion of Ramon Yslas, Kris Bowers’ creatively rambling piano and snatches of reggae anthem “Get Up, Stand Up”; and the album closer, an unaccompanied version of the Jackson 5’s “I’ll Be There.”
While hardly a variety show, the disc handily shows off Miller’s agility, as he skates from the bottom-thrusting “Redemption,” with keys/horn lines reminiscent of Joe Zawinul, to “Setembro (Brazilian Wedding Song),” featuring rubbery fretless bass à la Jaco, breathy vocals courtesy of Gretchen Parlato and Rubén Blades, and a rhythmic riff hinting at “Manteca.” “February,” featuring an extended solo by Han, is one of Miller’s most affecting ballads, while he amps up the hard rock, led by guitarist Adam Rogers, on “Jekyll & Hyde,” and uses his bass clarinet to lead “Gorée (Go-ray),” a tender-to-raucous piece inspired by a visit to the titular island, once a departure point for Africans forced into slavery. Dr. John even stops by for the bumping and thumping “Tightrope.” Nice catch.