For Afrodeezia, Marcus Miller-who mentions in his liner notes that he’s a spokesperson for UNESCO’s “Slave Route Project”-chose to incorporate musicians and instrumentation associated with various locales historically impacted by slavery. It’s a formidably funky collection-no surprise there-and some of Miller’s most ambitious work.
“I Can’t Breathe,” the album’s finale, is its most affecting piece. It takes its cues from recent instances of police brutality against African-Americans in the U.S., which Miller connects to the struggle of captured Africans on their way to a life of slavery. Miller (on bass guitar and bass clarinet, keyboards and Moroccan gimbri) lays out a looping, polyrhythmic, hyper-dynamic theme, soon enough overlaid by new textures provided by producer/multi-instrumentalist Mocean Worker and the vociferations of Public Enemy’s Chuck D. The juxtaposition of the inscrutably ancient and teeming modernity is made all the more poignant by the realization that there’s an uninterrupted line between the two points.
Miller’s roving, ever-penetrating basslines, as always, define direction. For “I Still Believe I Hear,” his upper-register dabbling is nearly violin-like as he moves freely within the Arabic melody. On the irresistibly danceable “Hylife,” the record’s opening statement-a nod to the African pop style highlife-he’s locked in tight with percussionist Adama Bilorou Dembele.
For most of Afrodeezia, his Blue Note debut, Miller is accompanied by his regular band-pianist Brett Williams, trumpeter Lee Hogans, saxophonist Alex Han, guitarist Adam Agati and drummer Louis Cato-with assorted guests stepping in as needed: trumpeter Etienne Charles, Robert Glasper on keys, the subtle voice of Lalah Hathaway on the blues “Preacher’s Kid (Song for William H).” Keb’ Mo’ brings a bit of the Delta to the cover of the Temptations’ “Papa Was a Rolling Stone.” It’s the album’s least absorbing track, but there’s so much to savor who’s going to mind a little Motown?