Marcus Miller is one of the most prominent bassists of our era. His past associations with the likes of Miles Davis and David Sanborn, alongside some of the biggest names in Rock, Pop, and Hip Hop (Eric Clapton, Mariah Carey, and Jay-Z to name but a few) have served to bolster his image well. He is, however, more than just an image. Behind the brand is one of the most talented musicians to ever grace a bass guitar.
Miller sets the bar high for ‘Renaissance’, due for release August 7. “I feel like a page is turning,” he says. “The last of our heroes are checking out and we are truly entering a new era. Politically, things have polarized and are coming to a head. Musically, we’ve got all these cool ways to play and share music – MP3 files, Internet radio and satellite radio – but the music is not as revolutionary as the media. It’s time for a rebirth.”
That rebirth comes in the form of one of the most genre-diverse ‘Jazz’ albums since Robert Glasper‘s ‘Black Radio’, readily jumping between any combination of post-bop, soul, neo-soul and funk between songs on the album, perfectly showcasing his skill as a composer and arranger. 8 of the 13 tracks on the album, including hard-thumping funk anthem “Detroit”, and the upbeat neo-soul grove “Slippin’ into Darkness”, are Miller’s own compositions, with the remainder featuring popular covers from the likes of The Jackson 5 and Janelle Monáe that Miller manages to make his own in a way only he could.
The bass takes the lead on most of the tunes, though Miller is clearly happy to let the incredibly talented cast of young musicians he curated for the album to take the lead. The two-time Grammy award winner is joined by Maurice Brown and Sean Jones (trumpet), Louis Cato (drums), Adam Agati and Adam Rogers (guitar), Kris Bowers (keys), and Miller’s long-time mentee Alex Han. Han’s powerful solos on “Detroit” and “Gorée” and real stand-outs on an album already filled with incredible musicianship.
Speaking of his young band, Miller said: “I’ve got these next generation musicians in their 20’s with me now that aren’t afraid of breaking boundaries. This young band fears nothing, so we are free to go anywhere. I’m finding that to be incredibly inspiring.” He also finds himself humbled at something as simple as the way these young musicians look at him. “You’ve got a young guy in your band and he’s staring at you, and you recognize the stare,” he said. “It’s the same stare you were giving to someone 20 years ago, hoping to learn something from them.” It seems they’re learning well, with Alex Han, who first met Miller at a teenager, taking the beginning steps on a journey to becoming an accomplished musician in his own right.
Overall, this album represents a journey across Miller’s many musical influences. As a listener, we’re taken across many of the musical eras and genres that inspired Miller, with the occasional short references to legends like Dizzy Gillespie and Bob Marley thrown in for the discerning listener. There is a lot going on in this incredibly diverse album, and Miller manages it all very well, showing he’s at home playing the high-funk classic “Mr. Clean”, or the ballad “I’ll be there” as an incredibly emotive bass solo to close out the album.
‘Renaissance’ perfectly conveys Miller’s message of getting back to real compositional value: “It’s about getting back to the essential aspects of art. I’m focusing less on production, and more on composition, so this is a very clear album for me… I don’t want to just do some cliches in different genres, like a guy that can just say ‘how are you’ in 20 different languages. The real challenge is, can you communicate something of substance through these languages that you speak?”