CD Review of Marcus by Marcus Miller
Recommended if you like
David Sanborn, Herbie Hancock,
Rick Braun
Concord Jazz
Marcus Miller: Marcus

Reviewed by Jeff Giles


azz aficionados have long since gotten used to seeing his name grace the liner notes of their favorite albums – and he’s been making records of his own for 25 years – but to the rest of the world, Marcus Miller’s career accomplishments can best be framed in the context of the artists he’s performed with and produced, a list that includes David Sanborn, Miles Davis, Frank Sinatra, Elton John, Bill Withers, and L.L. Cool J. A scarily talented multi-instrumentalist, Miller has, by his own estimation, played on over 500 albums and scored more than 20 movies.

Oh, and he also wrote “Da Butt.”

Though he’s proficient with pretty much every instrument, Miller is best known for his bass playing; between 1975 and 2000, he helped anchor the pocket for David Sanborn’s band (and produced most of Sanborn’s albums, to boot). No matter how far into smooth jazz Sanborn drifted during the ‘80s, he always had Miller’s warm, surly bass to counter all the synths, rhythm programming, and somnambulant arrangements. Of course, Miller wrote quite a bit of the material on those albums, too – which should tell you most of what you need to know about his solo career.

This is not to say that Marcus is lousy with synths and drum machines – or lousy at all – but it is, like most everything Miller has done, disappointingly smooth. (For a half-self-titled album, it also features an unusual number of guests – including Corinne Bailey Rae and Keb’ Mo – but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.) When he wants to flex his chops, he can be downright scary – observe:

In the studio, though, Miller’s usually content just to cruise, and Marcus is no exception. You’d think, for instance, that the guy who wrote “Da Butt” could deliver a suitably hot cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Higher Ground,” but you’d come up snake eyes on that roll; similarly, the version of Tower of Power’s “What Is Hip?” included here is strangely bloodless. What the album sets out to do – namely, lock you into a mildly funky midtempo groove – it does easily. But that’s sort of the problem, actually; at no point does it sound like Miller and his crew are in danger of breaking a sweat, and the songs, while pleasant, don’t offer much you haven’t already been hearing on your favorite quiet storm/smooth jazz station for the last 20 years.

Miller’s too seasoned a professional to ever be less than reliably entertaining, but as far as jazz records go, this is definitely better suited to housecleaning or a dinner party than active, focused listening. As long as your expectations aren’t commensurate with Miller’s talent, this may very well be worth your while – but it’s still hard not to wish he’d strut rather than stroll once in a while.

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