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Marcus Miller: A Night in Monte Carlo

Chuck Koton By

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It's been more than four years since James Brown, the "hardest working man in show business," departed this Earth for an ethereal stage, time enough to anoint a successor. Bassist Marcus Miller deserves consideration—a tribute that would, no doubt, put a smile on the face of the Godfather of Soul. After all, a typical year for the virtuosic bassist includes months of global touring (he just returned from a tour that took him to five continents, featuring his unforgettable '80s Warner Bros. collaborations with trumpeter Miles Davis, 1985's Tutu and 1989's Amandla); recording with his own band or with SMV - Stanley, Marcus, Victor, the monster bass triumvirate; and work with countless others as an in-demand sideman, producing CDs, conducting orchestras—and, of course, being the featured husband and father of the Miller clan.

Live in Monte Carlo, offers incontrovertibly funky and swingin' evidence of Miller's broad and prodigious musical skills. The CD—out in early 2011 in the U.S. after an earlier and successful European release—finds Miller and his working band joined by several illustrious guests, including Herbie Hancock, Roy Hargrove and the Monte Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra.

The recording opens with "Blast," a Grammy-nominated Miller composition, previously heard on his highly acclaimed Marcus (Concord, 2008). After a swinging, finger snappin' sitar-like Hindu rhythm, performed by keyboardist Federico Pena, Miller's electric bass seriously funks things up enough to hip even the squarest listener. Youthful alto sax phenom, Alex Han, blows a fiery solo, and Miller's arrangement, with the orchestra playing in unison against the soloists, maximizes the power of his riff.

Purists may cringe, but Miller's modern, funk-infused arrangement of the jazz standard, "So What"—not to mention his use of turntablist DJ Logic's scratching, would indubitably please the bassist's former employer, Miles Davis. In spite of contemporary critics' harsh reactions to Davis' electronic rock adventures back in the day, the "man with the horn" often made crystalline clear his artistic compulsion to keep his music fresh and new. Miller also eloquently covers another tune famously recorded by Davis, George Gershwin and Ira Gershwins "I Loves You, Porgy," his soulful bass crying out the pain of lost love.

Trumpet master Roy Hargrove blows a love-inspiring version of the standard, "I'm Glad There Is You," with enough tenderness and romance to make lovers out of strangers. Miller blows a soul-penetrating bass clarinet, in poignant duet with piano master Herbie Hancock, on Billie Holiday's iconic "Strange Fruit." Their sensitive, sonic collaboration not only conjures up images of African-American suffering in the Jim Crow South, but of all human suffering.

For this live recording, Miller put in some hard work playing, composing and arranging the music—even conducting the Monte Carlo Orchestra. Truly a swinging, hard-working and funky renaissance family man.

Track Listing: Blast!; So What; State of Mind; I Loves You Porgy; Amandla; I'm Glad There Is You;O Mio Bambino/Mas Que Nada; Your Amazing Grace; Strange Fruit.

Personnel: Marcus Miller: bass, bass clarinet; Roy Hargrove: trumpet; Raul Midon: vocals, guitar; Alex Han: alto saxophone; DJ Logic: turntables; Federico Gonzalez Pena: piano, keyboards, percussion; Poogie Bell: drums; Herbie Hancock: piano (9); Orchestre Philharmonic De Monte-Carlo.

Title: A Night in Monte Carlo | Year Released: 2011 | Record Label: Dreyfus Records


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