Marcus MILLER – Silver Rain 2005

Marcus MILLER – Silver Rain 2005
VICJ-61266

Jazz

If anyone could bring Eric Clapton and Eartha Kitt together on one album, it would be Marcus Miller, master of the slap bass and crossover producer extraordinaire. Though Miller’s heavy plucking is usually front-and-center, other guest artists like Macy Gray and Gerald Albright are given just as much room as Clapton to do their thing.
By Nick Dedina.
**
I am writing this review the day before the release date of Silver Rain, and the Amazon.com sales rank for this record is already 265th. This is a record of 15 tracks, all generally in a funk-jazz style that is hipper than any “smooth jazz” but still accessible, featuring only three vocals. The lead instrument on most of the tunes is either Mr. Miller’s electric bass or his—?!—bass clarinet. Marcus Miller is not famous—and what he is most famous for is producing other folks’ records. For the most part you can’t sing or hum along to this stuff—it’s a jazz record in the sense that there is much improvising without any discernable “hook”. So what exactly makes this music commercially viable?

I have theories…..!

The Guest Vocal Theory;
Perhaps the three vocals on this record—by no less than Lalah Hathaway, Macy Gray and Eric Clapton—are enough to move product. But each one is a modest contribution. Macy features on a Prince cover (“Girls & Boys”) and, despite her crazy-fun voice, barely registers. Mr. Guitar God does his Bob Marley thing on the title track, a “reggae shuffle” written by Miller. And the Daughter of Donny Hathaway delivers a nice, understated soul vocal on “La Villette”, a tune that also contains an unsettling wordless operatic vocal line on the chorus promptly followed by very long and show-offy electric bass solo. Is it believable that fans of Clapton (or Hathaway or Gray or the weirdly used operatic tenor) are so starved for tunes that they would buy this disc just for one track? Theory rejected.
The Odd Cover Tune Theory;
While Mr. Miller composed most of the music on this album, it is primarily a showcase for his prodigious funk-arranging skills. Can he give Beethoven a slippery, contemporary jazz feel? Yes he can: witness the “Moonlight Sonata” contained herein. Can he set Edgar Winter’s vintage “Frankenstein” atop a popping bass line for slashing trumpet and tenor sax solos? You betcha. The aforementioned Prince tune slithers by, as does a how’d-he-do-that? bass-heavy version of Stevie’s “Boogie on Reggae Woman”. (Side Note: American Idol is making even me—a certified Wonder Fan—feel that others should stop covering this great American songwriter. No more “Sir Duke” for the amateur singers of our nation, please.) Is there the obligatory Hendrix cover? ‘Deed there is: “Power of Soul”. Miller produced Luther, so we get a wordless version of “If Only for One Night”. And then, for proof of jazz creds, there is Ellington’s “Sophisticated Lady”. The last two are played beautifully by Miller on bass clarinet. But how many soul music fans are pining for bass clarinet on their iPod? Theory rejected.
The Bass Freak Theory;
The electric bass can be an unwieldy instrument. While every 14-year-old American boy I’ve ever met can slap out “Smoke on the Water” on a Fender Jazz Bass, almost no one can make the thing truly sing. That’s why bass players almost all have the same heroes: James Jamerson, Larry Graham, Bootsy Collins, Jack Bruce, Jaco Pastorius, maybe Les Claypool and recently Victor Wooten. Marcus Miller belongs in this kind of company. In fact, he’s probably a better all-around musician than any of the usual Bass Heroes while still being able to slap, pop and freak his way into the finals of any funk-slam-dunk contest you set up. And this disc is a complete bass guitar workout on every level. Every bass freak in the world should be picking this thing up. But still, how many people qualify as a genuine-certified members of freaky-deaky bass club? Theory rejected
The Promotional Muscle Theory;
In America you can sell just about anything if you know what you’re doing. Sure, it helps that this is extremely proficient, even artful and at times brilliant music, but that’s not the point. Marcus Miller is a professional’s professional, both a sideman and a producer for no less than Miles Davis; he is a man who has spent his lifetime in The Industry, even a winner of a 2001 Grammy for his last disc, M2. But if that were it, then you would expect him to be on a bigger label (even M2 was on the small Telarc label). And while there’s no doubt that Miller can attract industry heavyweights like Clapton to his projects, wouldn’t the truly heavy suits be objecting to hyping jazz purist Kenny Garrett as a “special guest” with long solos on the Clapton and Macy Gray tracks, no less? Theory rejected.
So?
One last theory;
as cobbled together as this collection is, each track is very good. With “contemporary jazz” as its broad-brush stylistic territory, this music succeeds in nearly everything it attempts. Perhaps least characteristic but most telling is “Sophisticated Lady”, which recaptures the Ellington original by having Miller’s bass clarinet play the main melody against very spare, synthesized drum groove and having his fretless bass guitar take the contrasting melody as tastefully minimal synth-strings flesh out the harmonies. Miller plays every note and makes you believe, almost, that the tune is his own. As with so many of the other covers on the record, Miller has re-imagined them as features for his own colossal talent. His originals are melodic and harmonically sophisticated (particularly the two features for harmonica player Gregoire Maret, “Behind the Smile” and “Make Up My Mind”) without losing their pop appeal.
Presumably the market—and Amazon.com—don’t lie. More people than I would imagine want what Marcus Miller has to offer: lovingly crafted instrumental pop with believable dollops of jazz, funk or soul atop its different servings. Silver Rain is most than just a product for sale. It is, almost despite itself, the portrait of a diverse talent.
By Will Layman.
*
Lucky Peterson- Guitar
Dean Brown- Acoustic and Electric Guitar
Eric Clapton- Guitar, Vocal
Roger Byam- Tenor Sax
Kirk Whalum- Tenor Sax
Michael “Patches” Stewart- Trumpet
Ronald Bruner- Drums, Tenor Sax
Bernard Wright- Keyboards
Grégoire Maret- Harmonica
Bruce Flowers- Fender Rhodes, Organ, Synthesizer Bass
Kenny Garrett- Alto Sax
Gerald Albright- Alto Sax
Lalah Hathaway- Vocals
Kenny Hicks- Tenor Vocal
Craig J.- Percussion
Munyungo Jackson- Percussion
Joey Kibble- Background Vocals
Mark Kibble- Background Vocals
Jessica Celious- Background Vocals
Eartha Kitt- Vocals
Macy Gray- Vocals
Poogie Bell- Drums, Snare Drums
Marcus Miller- Arranger, Audio Production, Bass, Acoustic Bass, Beat Box, Bass Clarinet, Clavinet, Composer, Drum Machine, Drums, Engineer, Executive Producer, Fender Rhodes, Finger Snaps, Fretless Bass, Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Bass Guitar, Handclapping, Hi Hat, Keyboards, Moog Synthesizer, Organ, Percussion, Piano, Producer, Rhythm Box, Soprano Sax, Scratching, Synthesizer, Synthesizer Orchestration, Synthesizer Strings, Talk Box, Tambourine, Udu, Vocals, Background Vocals, Voice Box, Woodwind
**
01. Intro Duction  0:29
02. Bruce Lee  5:23
03. La Villette  5:54
04. Behind The Smile  6:25
05. Frankenstein  6:32
06. Moonlight Sonata  7:38
07. Boogie On Raggae Woman  5:03
08. Paris (Interlude)  1:14
09. Silver Rain  6:01
10. Make Up My Mind  3:42
11. Girls And Boys  5:35
12. Sophisticated Lady  5:22
13. Power Of Soul  6:52
14. Outro Duction  0:49
15. It’ll Come Back To You  5:07
**


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