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Marcus Miller: Laid Black (Blue Note)

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Cover of "Laid Black" by Marcus Miller
Cover of “Laid Black” by Marcus Miller

Marcus Miller’s Blue Note debut, 2015’s Afrodeezia, drew from the African diaspora, presenting a globetrotting musical mélange driven by his experiences acting as a UNESCO Artist for Peace and a spokesman for that organization’s Slave Route Project. This followup finds him firmly planted on U.S. soil, employing the sounds of modernity born at said route’s end. It’s both a consolidation of African-American ingenuity and a celebration of its manifold gifts to the world.

In liberally mixing aspects of R&B, trap, funk, and hip-hop with jazz, Miller manages to play up their commonalities while leveraging the originality and accessibility of each. Opening with “Trip Trap,” a number that’s both anthemic and club-friendly, he immediately taps into a central city spirit. Much of what follows—a cool-turned-scorching soul take on “Que Sera Sera” elevated by the fervent vocals of Selah Sue, a funk-rock summit with Trombone Shorty on “7-T’s,” the slickly grooving “Untamed”—explores that urbanity to the fullest.

Miller dons many hats here, showcasing his prodigious electric bass chops, adding keyboards and programming, dabbling with percussion and vocals, making a lasting impression with his bass clarinet and applying sleek production touches. His musical predominance, however, doesn’t diminish the contributions of his colleagues. Alto saxophonist Alex Han and trumpeter Marquis Hill both score high marks with their righteous riffing, while drummers Louis Cato and Alex Bailey light fires beneath the band and lock beautifully with the boss during their separate stints behind the kit. A variety of top-tier guests—including guitarist/vocalist Jonathan Butler, who adds to the woolgathering atmosphere of “Sublimity ‘Bunny’s Dream,’” and vocal collective Take 6, who contribute (along with tenor man Kirk Whalum) to the spiritually centered “Preacher’s Kid”—also put their stamp on this inviting program extolling the urban aesthetic.  DAN BILAWSKY  

Preview, buy or download Laid Black on Amazon!

Originally Published