Marcus Miller is the bassist’s bass player. He has worked with the leading artists in soul and jazz for well-over thirty years, collaborating with Miles Davis on Tutu, with Grover Washington Jr. on Winelight, and it is of course his pounding bass setting the groove on Luther Vandross’ ‘Never Too Much’. He’s also released several excellent soul-jazz albums of his own, and is a feature on the European and Asian jazz circuit. Even more impressively, he is one of the architects of UNESCO’s International Jazz Day, alongside Herbie Hancock. Now he has released another excellent collection of songs on his latest record, his debut record for Universal Blue Note Records – Afrodeezia.
The album’s first single ‘Hylife’ oozes sophistication, combining Miller’s trademark bass sound with African rhythms and percussion beautifully. The song features a vocal chorus by Alune Wade and Cherif Soumano, before the jazzier elements of the song are manifested. Lee Hogan’s trumpet solo is sublime, as is the piano solo by Miller’s band mate Brett Williams. Coming in at just shy of seven minutes, ‘Hylife’ is a wonderful hybrid of influences upon Miller: jazz, soul, and African funk. It certainly sets the pace for the rest of the album.
One of the more interesting cuts of the album – not to say that there are bland cuts, because there aren’t – is ‘I Can’t Breathe’ which features a rap from Chuck D. Whilst is has not been confirmed this is the case, but it seems to be referencing the death of Eric Garner, an unarmed African-American in Staten Island who died after being placed in a choke-hold by a New York police officer whist protesting ‘I can’t breathe’. The rap would certainly suggest so:
“I can’t breathe/I got my hands up… People fed up/In the crosshairs/Be aware/For both sides are scared”
The song is masterful with Miller setting down a particularly funky hip-hop infused bass line that suits Chuck D well. The percussion is also highly enjoyable on this track, as is the horn arrangement. The bass-drops are classic Miller, bridging the past with the new sounds of today.
‘Preachers Kid (Song for William H)’ is a song in tribute to his father, a musician and choir leader in his own right; the influence of Miller’s father is clearly all over this track, particularly with the choir vocal opening. It is one of the more poignant tracks on the album, and showcases Miller’s ability to not just play bass (here is on acoustic bass), but also his ability to play clarinet as well as they keys, featuring lovely solos of both. This song is far from what Miller’s trademark would normally be considered to be, but it shows that Miller is far from content churning out the same style songs album to album. ‘Preachers Kid’ is an incredible song, no doubt an emotional one for Miller.
‘Son of Macbeth’ opens with a guitar solo as well as steel drums, bringing into the album musical influences from Southern America. Miller’s bass is once again funky; the horns have an almost Brazilian feel, invoking the spirit of Brazil’s most famous musical export, Sergio Mendes. ‘We Were There’ meanwhile is perhaps the closest the album gets to the ‘standard’ Miller groove; nonetheless, its still a good song, with a wonderful saxophone solo. His cover of The Temptations’ ‘Papa Was A Rolling Stone’ doesn’t really stray too far from the original the horns are excellent, and Miller’s bass replaces the Tempts vocals. It’s a nice enough cover, but not necessarily fitting with the rest of the album.
Overall, Miller has delivered another excellent solo recording. Afrodeezia is certainly better than his last album Renaissance purely for the variety of musical influences at play, creating an album whereby each song has a different feel and groove. Miller is one of the premier musicians in the world today and it’s always nice to hear something new from him. We’d go so far to suggest that – whisper it quietly –Afrodeezia is Miller’s greatest solo work.