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Marcus Miller: M2

Jazz-funk bassist Marcus Miller has had such a prolific career it’s hard to believe this is only his third studio CD as leader. But Miller is a musician’s musician, interacting with talent in jazz, pop and R&B as a producer, sideman and songwriter for so long (he’s appeared on more than 400 CDs) he probably couldn’t find time to squeeze in his own music. A longtime collaborator with saxophonist David Sanborn and crooner Luther Vandross, Miller crosses musical boundaries with regularity, but keeps his hard-funk and jazz roots intact even as he expounds on his groundbreaking bass beats. Miller gained fame in his early 20s while touring with Miles Davis, and later produced Davis’ Tutu and Amandla albums.

Miller’s spirit of cooperation extends to this CD, which features a stellar cast, including James Carter, Kenny Garrett, Herbie Hancock, Chaka Khan, Branford Marsalis, Djavan, Wayne Shorter and Patches Stewart. Miller’s five covers touch on varied musical styles: “Amazing Grace,” an updated drums-and-bass version with Garrett’s sublime sax, new lyrics and vocals by Khan; a lazy-funky version of John Coltrane’s “Lonnie’s Lament,” with Miller on tenor and Marsalis with a soprano solo; Charles Mingus’ “Goodbye Porkpie Hat,” with Miller on all instruments (fretless bass guitar lead and support, bass clarinet, synths and drum programming) and Hancock with a piano solo; Billy Cobham’s “Red Baron”; and the Talking Heads’ “Burning Down the House,” Miller’s dexterous bass lead complete with DJ scratching anchored in brass by Stewart (trumpet) and Fred Wesley (trombone).

Miller’s originals are heavily funkified and, like the entire CD, are propelled by his staccato drum programming. Purists may not like the programming, but Miller knows what he’s looking for: a funk/jazz/soul CD for the 21st century, incorporating all the underground/acid/DJ touches, while relying on great musicianship to make it memorable.

And don’t expect Miller to let up. “Nikki’s Groove” was written for his 8-year-old daughter, heard on a phone message: “Dad, are you at the studio again? Can you come home right now please?”

Hold on, honey; Daddy’s workin’ it.

Originally Published