The Yerevan Jazz Festival 2017 invited American bassist Marcus Miller: bass genius, that who is well-known for his impressive technique and brilliant albums. As a multi-instrumentalist, Miller is highly proficient as a keyboardist, clarinetist, bass clarinetist and, primarily, as a world-renowned electric bassist.
Few musicians today are as versatile as Marcus Miller: bassist, keyboardist, bass clarinetist, film composer, producer and more. He does jazz, rock, jazz-rock, R&B, smooth jazz — anything that black musicians have invented in the last half-century. He was in Miles Davis’ last band, and the ethos of that music tends to carry over into his own.
In the Yerevan bassist was flanked by a spirited young band with a sack of serious tunes. Miller, arguably the best electric bassist in the business-having played with everyone from Miles Davis to Aretha Franklin, Herbie Hancock to Frank Sinatra-did not disappoint in Cheltenham and gave one of the stand-out performances of the entire festival.
The band’s high-energy show lasted for an intense 90 minutes and succeeded in transcending the showy posturing you would expect from a superstar funk gig. Sure, there were prodigiously fast solos, rousing climaxes, distorted electric guitar solos and crunching drum breaks, but these aspects were tempered by restraint, sophistication, progressive harmonies and the occasional surprise (at one point Miller whipped out a bass clarinet for a brief, haunting interlude).
That said, the brilliant showman seemed to relish performing to the sizable audience and did not hold back from his trademark, finger-busting solos-it was clear too he likes to surround himself with similarly showstopping musicians. His horn section, consisting of altoist Alex Han and trumpeter Russell Gann, was tight as a clenched fist but, as individuals, exploded when their solos came around. One of the show’s highlights came when the pair blew up a storm in the demented “Tutu” and the encore “Blast.”
The bulk of the material was from Miller’s latest album, very much an extension of his renowned collaborations with Miles Davis during the latter part of the trumpeter’s career. Elsewhere in the set, the audience was treated to “Amandla,” coupling tender lyricism with boisterous synths. On the downside, even the most gentle ballad would eventually be souped up with bass-slapping grooves-fun to watch but forced his otherwise fine ensemble into blurting histrionic wails at each other.
When his band, however, was given free rein to build solos in their own time, they dazzled. Clean-toned trumpeter Maurice Brown freestyled with deft self-assurance while the Alex Han instilled a deep knowledge of jazz into the mix. Backing the lot was drummer Louis Cato, whose raw power fueled the high-octane set throughout. Once “Amandla” brought the show to a boiling point, the audience was left hollering for an encore. They got two, ending with a Spanish-tinged tour-de-force from all, wrapping up this powerhouse of a performance.
Marcus Miller has worked with world stars such as Miles Davis, Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Mariah Carey, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Frank Sinatra, Dr. John, Aretha Franklin, Elton John, Donald Fagen, Bill Withers and many others.
By the time saxophonist Alex Han won a full-ride Presidential Scholarship to Berklee, he was already palling around with jazz stars such as Paquito D’Rivera and Berklee faculty member Joe Lovano. During college, he balanced his courses with performances worldwide—including at Carnegie Hall with D’Rivera and in Poland with Berklee professor Terri Lyne Carrington. While at Berklee, he turned down not one, but two invitations to tour with respected bassist/composer Marcus Miller. But playing hard to get, so to speak, didn’t hurt his chances: Han is now touring with Miller in Europe.
In July 2013, he also had the honor of being designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace and the official spokesperson for the UNESCO Slave Route Project. This project was launched in 1994 to raise awareness about slavery and shed light on the struggles for dignity and freedom of enslaved peoples around the world.
For JazzBluesNews.Space Marcus Miller says: “The power of music is limitless. Through spirituals, jazz, soul, we were able to preserve our history, because all the rest had been erased. I did a lot of research before I started recording “Afrodeezia”, and at least as many discoveries during the recording sessions! My main desire was to go back to the source of the rhythms that make up the richness of our musical heritage, to leave Africa to follow them, as if to trace, to the United States. This journey took us from Mali to Paris, from New Orleans to Sao Paulo, through the Caribbean.
After visiting the House of Slaves, on the island of Goree, I composed Goree, which appeared on my previous record, Renaissance. On stage, I quickly felt the need to tell what I had felt in Senegal. I wanted people to understand that this piece did not just talk about the tragedy of slavery, but that through the music, especially, those people who had suddenly found themselves at the bottom of a boat had found a way to to survive, transformed all their distress into joy.
It’s my music that you hear about “Afrodeezia”, it reflects what I am today: an open musician, always on the alert, who has found his true personality for a decade, but who must continue evolve. I am proud of my group of young musicians: Alex Han on saxophone, Russell Gann on trumpet, Brett Williams on keyboards and Louis Cato on drums. They form the hard core of “Afrodeezia”, around which soloists come from all the countries we have crossed. All these contributions create a new dynamic in my music. There are incredible sounds, kora, guembri, a lot of percussion … ”
A new era is opening up for black Americans. Increasingly sophisticated DNA testing now allows us to say that we are not from North Carolina, Virginia or, at best, the Caribbean. Thanks to these tests, I know that I have Nigerian blood. These connections are tangible, they are in my blood. “Afrodeezia” is the most accurate reflection of the person I am today. With this new repertoire, there will be no more differences between the one I am in life and the musician you see on stage and that changes everything”.