“I mean, you gotta pay your respects”, proclaimed Marcus Miller as he strapped on another electric bass and launched into the unmistakable opening riff of The Beatles’ Come Together. The two-time Grammy Award-winning Brooklyn bassist and his seven-piece band had landed in Liverpool for the first night of an eight-date UK/Irish tour, and included in his set this thunderous funk/rock’n’roll arrangement which would surely have warmed John Lennon’s heart.
Opening with numbers from current album Afrodeezia (which, colourfully suffused with world music flavours, is Miller’s tribute to his African ancestors’ rich musical heritage and their journey to the United States), Senegalese-imbued Hylife hit the ground running, its saturated, high-energy groove redolent of Joe Zawinul’s Syndicate years. Commanding front of stage in trademark M2 pork pie hat, and quickly establishing an amiable connection with an appreciative audience, the bassist’s slap’n’pop dance rhythms began to flow with ease, energised by the slick line-up of Alex Han (saxes), Marquis Hill (trumpet), Adam Agati (guitar), Brett Williams (keys), Alex Bailey (drums); and central to the vibe, the superbly elaborate precision of multi-percussionist Mino Cinelu.
This sound world is very much about the intoxicating groove, as in extended, cruising B’s River which featured the appealing, jangling timbre of Miller’s three-stringed, North African gimbri before switching to conventional 4-string to ease back into typically lyrical improv, backed by smooth, NYC-style horns. Cinelu’s busy percussion became increasingly compelling, his surprising, intricate manipulation of the humble triangle, in particular, drawing a great crowd response – and Adam Agati’s ever-present rhythm guitar hit the spotlight as he turned in a complex, breakneck solo. Miller reminisced about his childhood-learnt bass riffs, the open simplicity of Papa was a Rolling Stone amongst them – and so ensued a cool Motown interpretation, featuring fine horn work from Han and Hill, as well as the leader’s rapid-fire bass.
Marcus Miller famously made a major contribution, both as composer and producer, to Miles Davis’ 1986 release Tutu – and, around that time, both Miller and percussionist Cinelu played in Miles’ band. So, here, ensued the classic, smouldering groove of Jean Pierre, the band enjoying passing its signature riff around the stage, sparking off duels between sax and pitch-bent synth, and also Miller’s harmonic-laden, frenetically-fingered bass against sparkling drums.
The bassist is a UNESCO Artist for Peace, and retold his moving experiences of visiting Senegalese museum, The House of Slaves, just off the coast of Dakar – and especially the poignancy of the Door of No Return, symbolising the oppression of the Atlantic slave trade (a history which it shares with Liverpool). Miller explained that he chose to channel his anger into a celebration of the human capacity to overcome pain, resulting in Gorée (from his Renaissance album) – a long, slow-burning journey reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s Last Train Home, featuring Miller’s bass clarinet, plus shrill soprano drama from Alex Han.
Inviting suggestions, following the audience’s insistent request for encore – “Waddya want… fast or slow?” – and possibly saving the best ’til last, Miller and his band pulled out of the bag a blistering medley including Detroit and Free, prompting exciting, phased synth extemporisations from 22-year-old Brett Williams, as well as touches of eloquent, harmonic, Jaco Pastorius-like bass from Miller – and, especially with the muted trumpet of Marquis Hill, Miles’ spirit felt especially close.
There’s no doubting that Marcus Miller’s music revs up through the gears in a live setting – the one-time studio/session player really knows how to electrify the stage!
Adrian Pallant is a proofreader, musician and jazz writer who also reviews at his own site, ap-reviews.com
REMAINING UK TOUR DATES:
20 October 2015: Gateshead
22 October 2015: Edinburgh
23 October 2015: Manchester
24 October 2015: Cork, Ireland
26 October 2015: Barbican, London (sold out)
27 October 2015: Cambridge
28 October 2015: Birmingham