MARCUS MILLER: ‘Renaissance’ (Dreyfus Jazz)

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Following on from his excellent ‘Tutu Revisited’ project from 2010 legendary bass player Marcus Miller returns with a top-notch new studio album featuring material that he showcased at the recent Cheltenham Jazz Festival. The opener is bright and effervescent – a seismic slab of bass-led funk called ‘Detroit,’ which features Alex Han on alto sax and highly-touted new trumpeter, Maurice Brown. ‘Redemption’ is darker in mood and character and features a sinuous horn theme played by Sean Jones over a rumbling thumbed bass line. Even more subdued is ‘February,’ which begins with a mournful bass melody before morphing into a mid-paced Latin-tinged workout. There’s a palpable Latin flavour too on a lovely, dreamy version of Ivan Lins’ ‘Setembro (Brazilian Wedding Song).’ Miller enunciates the lyrical main melody on fretless bass while delicate-voiced singer Gretchen Parlato and Panamanian salsa man Ruben Blades combine their voices to fine effect, creating a seductive atmosphere.

On ‘Jekyll & Hyde’ a gentle, introspective introduction is juxtaposed with a raucous funk-rock section before evolving into a sinuous groove topped by a jaunty horn theme. More funk comes in the shape of an updated version of War’s classic ‘Slippin’ Into Darkness,’ with pianist Kris Bowers shining in the spotlight with a dextrous solo. ‘Mr. Clean’ is another highlight. It’s a revamp of an old Weldon Irvine tune (from his ‘Liberated Brother’ album) that Freddie Hubbard made his own on his ‘Straight Life’ LP. Miller transforms it into a churning muscular groove. Another cover – this time of a more recent tune – is Miller’s artful retooling of Janelle Monae’s ‘Tightrope,’ which he reconfigures into a surreal party groove fronted by Dr. John’s distinctive vocals. The album concludes with Miller’s unaccompanied bass playing a bittersweet version of the Jackson Five’s Motown smash, ‘I’ll Be There,’ rounding off what is one of the bassist’s most impressive albums yet.

(CW) 4/5