Marcus Miller – Afrodeezia
(Blue Note 0602547214416. CD Review by Peter Jones)
Writing, arranging and producing an album for Miles Davis at the age of 25 is not a bad start to anyone’s career, even if Tutu was critically panned at the time. In fact, it wasn’t the start of Marcus Miller’s career: by then he had already been working professionally for a decade, and over the years he has contributed as a session bass player to the work of jazz and pop royalty: Michael Jackson, Herbie Hancock, Mariah Carey, Wayne Shorter, McCoy Tyner, Frank Sinatra, George Benson… you get the picture.
Miller’s own recordings have been many: Afrodeezia is the 22nd album he has released under his own name, albeit his first for Blue Note. As one would expect, it’s a polished, sophisticated piece of work, full of rich melody and with a sonically diverse instrumentation, including the bass clarinet. It was recorded with musicians from West Africa, South America and the Caribbean as well as the USA, and was inspired by Miller’s role as spokesman for UNESCO’s Slave Route Project. The players include Miles soundalike Patches Stewart on an ass-kicking rendition of Papa Was a Rolling Stone, one of only two tracks not composed by Miller. The other is a tune written by Bizet, and here titled I Still Believe I Hear, a stately piece featuring gorgeous cello from Ben Hong of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.
So Afrodeezia is not what the title suggests, an album of exclusively African sounds. Instead Marcus Miller has given his musical imagination free rein across the many genres he works in. This is important to his mission of giving a voice to the black people who, as he points out, have no voice, whose history has been erased, living on only through music. His stated aim has been to ‘follow them like footprints from their beginnings in Africa all the way to the United States’ and throughout the New World. Hence the steel pans on Son of Macbeth, the upbeat samba-like Hylife, with vocals by Senegal’s Alune Wade and Cherif Soumano. And of course the melodic possibilities of the electric bass are well exploited here, such as the fretless soloing on the serene Xtraordinary.
The contemporary struggle faced by African Americans in the face of police violence is the inspiration for the dance groove I Can’t Breathe, one of the best tracks on the album, with a vocal from Public Enemy’s Chuck D: ‘Can’t breathe, got my hands up… not good when you’re breathing in fear.’
There’s a lot to like and admire about Marcus Miller, and much to enjoy on this album.