|Marcus Miller. Photo credit: Paul Wood|
Marcus Miller plus Carleen Anderson
(Royal Festival Hall. Saturday 23rd Nov 2013 – LJF. Review by Alison Bentley)
Two legendary figures in jazz funk: bassist, composer and bandleader Marcus Miller and Carleen Anderson, seminal figure in Acid Jazz (The Young Disciples)- and James Brown’s goddaughter!
Anderson’s band took the first set. ”Marcus Miller- I can’t believe they even asked me to be on the same stage!’ she mused, with a childlike excitement than ran though her set.
She opened with a poem (‘The stage is set, the life begins’), her grainy voice like Tom Waits, over a funk groove led by James Pearson’s Fender Rhodes. Her diminutive figure looked as if it might be swept away by the power of the beat. She sounded as if she’d lived every note, from the dark scratchy low tones to the high squeals, a tough-edged gospel sound, like Marian Anderson laced with Marianne Faithfull. In The Young Disciples’ hit Apparently Nothing she got us to ‘act like a choir’ filling in the backing vocals for her, as her voice soared up with a terrifying vulnerability. The soulful Before Me was from an unrecorded musical she’s writing about her family: American classical and soul singers, and you could hear the almost operatic influence on her voice.
True Spirit and Mama Said were from her True Spirit solo album, with an Acid Jazz beat- Simon Lea (drums) and Sam Burgess (bass) caught the pre-hip hop feel perfectly, Pearson a little like the Crusaders’ Joe Sample. Instrumental solos were short, including a fine bluesy one from Al Cherry. In the impossibly infectious Mama Said, Anderson’s voice was like a sweet drink with a bitter tang in it. Amy Winehouse once said she’d sit around a venue all day, just to hear Carleen Anderson soundcheck.
Marcus Miller is perhaps best known for his association with Miles Davis on several Tutu-era albums, and his opening Panther recalled one written for Miles’ Amandla (Big Time). Instead of lush synth tones, there were punchy horn lines (Alex Han: saxes, Lee Hogans: trumpet). Miller’s slap bass on fretted Fender bubbled up through the seats, like an earthquake breaking through the earth’s crust. Robert “Sput” Searight’s powerful drumming sounded like kit and percussion rolled into one. Detroit had an urban swagger, Miller’s spidery fingers keeping the groove on the lowest string while playing the melody. The phrases of Brett Williams’ piano solo skipped across the groove, like stones across water. Han’s alto solo (a pinch of Kenny Garrett spiced with David Sanborn- with whom Miller has also worked extensively) was high energy, playing towards Miller like a rock guitarist, as if drawing energy from him.
Most of the tunes were from the new Renaissance album: Mr Clean felt like a direct descendent of Herbie Hancock’s Head Hunters, with its nifty interlocking riffs and Miller’s percussive bass. Revelation began with a mellow intro ‘from a Puccini album’ (!) before dancing into a fast 6/8 theme. Miller’s trumpeters probably always invite comparison with Miles, but Hogan’s sparky unmuted sound was more Hubbard, with a few Sandoval flourishes. The piece had a filmic quality, the denouement being Adam Agati’s rocky, Mike Stern-like guitar solo.
Miller introduced Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde as a ‘schizophrenic’ piece. ‘The first part is is cool and chilled out, the second part is a little crazy.. I’m a Gemini so it make sense to me!’ He’s talked elsewhere of how he likes his rhythms to ‘relate to the way people walk down the street today’, and how in this tune he alternated funk with Art Blakey-like swing rhythms- and rocked-out parts, played behind the beat. It felt like a Saturday night piece, full of rock braggadocio and contrast.
The introspective Gorée was named, chillingly, for a Senegalese island where slaves were held before their cross-Atlantic journey. It was the end of the slaves’ experience of Africa- but Miller also saw it as the beginning of African-American experience- and so, jazz. Miller played clarinet- bass, naturally- with a lyrical yearning, brushes on drums, lilting piano. When Miller strapped his fretless bass back on the energy levels leapt again, and his solo was melodic and Pastorius-like. Just as we thought things couldn’t get any more energetic, the band broke into the Beatles’ Come Together, the tune adapted into neatly-harmonised horn licks. Miller’s solo rampaged along the fretboard, slaps like gunshots, wreathing his hands both ways round the neck to reach impossible notes.
‘These cats can really play, can’t they- these young boys?’ grinned Miller, and the audience stood as one to agree.