Marcus Miller – A Night in Monte-Carlo – Dreyfuss Jazz/Concord Jazz CJA-32660-02, 1 hour [2/1/11] *****:
(Marcus Miller – orchestral arrangements, bass guitar, bass clarinet; Roy Hargrove – trumpet; Raul Midon – vocals, guitar; Alex Han, alto sax; DJ Logic, turntables; Frederico Gonzales Pena – piano, keyboards, percussion; Poogie Bell, drums; Herbie Hancock, piano on “Strange Fruit;” Orchestre Philharmonique de Monte-Carlos cond. by Damon Gupton with Liza Kerob, violin solo)
Marcus Miller is an all-around Renaissance man in jazz – a multi-instrumentalist, composer, arranger, and producer. He was clssically trained as a clarinetist and besides guitars also plays keyboards and sax. Spending 15 years a session musician enabled him to observe how great band leaders operated. He’s worked with Grover Washington Jr., Robert Flack, Carly Simon, McCoy Tyner, David Sanborn and others, he was part of the Saturday Night Live band during the late 70s, and he wrote “Tutu” for Miles Davis. He also has a parallel career as a composer for films.
This exciting live recording documents a special concert he was commissioned to produce in 2008 in Monte-Carlo, of much of his own music and his arrangements for full symphony orchestra. Some of the tracks feature his own quartet and others the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic. Special guests include trumpeter Roy Hargrove, singer/songwriter/guitarist Raul Midon, and – in a last-minute addition – the final track features Miller on bass clarinet with Herbie Hancock on piano plus unidentified backing instrumentalists. They play an instrumental version of the chilling song pioneered by Billie Holiday: “Strange Fruit,” which was recorded separately in Los Angeles.
Miller turns to fretless bass guitar for “I Loves You Porgy” from Porgy & Bess, with a string orchestra backing. Another more classical piece is a famous aria from Puccini’s Gianni Schicchi, again with Miller on fretless bass instead of the soprano voice, and that becomes a medley with the rousing Brazilian pop tune “Mas Que Nada. The penultimate selection on the disc is Marcus’ innovative updating of “Amazing Grace,” featuring his bass clarinet and the orchestra. Other top musical efforts on the disc include the opening Middle East flavored “Blast!” – described as “futuristic world fusion funk,” and a thrilling orchestral arrangement of Miles Davis’ classic “So What” which even includes turntablist DJ Logic.
The concert crosses a bewildering number of musical borderlines and is surely a crossover album that pulls out all the stops. We feel we are sampling every aspect of Marcus’ entire musical personality. Many classical symphony orchestras have been offering pops concerts programs to pull in new audiences in this time of financial struggle for most musical ensembles. But many of them just don’t have the hang of swinging even a little bit when they do jazz. The Monte-Carlo musicians, on the other hand, groove with the best of them. The Europeans have long seemed to handle the jazz and classical mix better than U.S. musicians. The CD is dedicated to the memory of the founder of Dreyfus Jazz Records, Francois Dreyfus.
Blast!, So What, State of Mind, I Loves You Porgy, Amandla, I’m Glad There is You, Medley: O Mio Babbino Caro / Mas Que Nada, Your Amazing Grace, Strange Fruit.
— John Henry