When I got Marcus Miller’s Silver Rain, I had some expectations sure. I’d heard his rendition of Jimi Hendrix’s “Power of Soul” and I was impressed. But nothing prepared me for when I got into my car and put this CD in shortly after buying it. The introduction kicked in, with Marcus’s masterful slap bass, and I could not understand. I did not expect something so funky, so rocking, and so well done. But that’s Marcus for you.
Marcus Miller got his first big break working with the one and only Miles Davis in the 80’s. Even a great recruiter like Miles Davis did not fully recognize the potential Marcus Miller had. They were on tour at some point, and Marcus was sitting off on his own, slapping on the bass to pass the time. Miles asked how he played like that, and Marcus said “that’s how I always play.” Since leaving Miles Davis, Marcus has released a couple solo CDs, which I need to pick up.
For this CD, Marcus followed in the footsteps of Miles by picking some great musicians, especially singers, to back him up. My favorite is Lalah Hamilton on “La Villette.” The main lyric is pretty simple, but her voice is so enchanting. There’s also Macy Gray and Eric Clapton. When I saw Clapton’s name in the liner notes, I got all excited. Unfortunately, he mostly does singing on the title track. The singing’s fine, and the track is really cool, the brass fits perfectly. But when I see Eric Clapton’s name, I expect guitar. There’s a small guitar solo to end the song, but it is tiny. It’s just there to remind you that Eric Clapton knows how to play. This teaser is pretty good, but I would’ve enjoyed a bit more, quite a bit.
Macy Gray’s track is, however, my least favorite track on the CD. At least, I like it a lot less than all the other vocal tracks. When she’s actually singing, everything’s fine, the song’s a cover of Prince’s “Girls and Boys.” But it’s when the instrumentals are going that Macy becomes a problem. She does not seem to understand that it’s the instruments turn. She inserts herself in with that unique and wonderful voice of hers with stuff like “Alright Marcus” “Let the bass players play” and “Saxophone” while the sax is going. My only other big qualm with the CD is the harmonica in “Behind the Smile.” Normally I enjoy the harmonica, but this one makes this noise, this sound that I find unappealing.
The bass playing throughout the work is phenomenal. Thanks to his ability to slap, Marcus keeps things interesting throughout the whole CD. He does these little bass scrambles at points, his punchy plucks give this totally funky vibe. The fills on the classic “Frankenstein” make the track his own (the trumpet is pretty nice in the song too). His bass leads, and the band follows in “Bruce Lee” named after, well you know. Marcus considered Bruce Lee to be a master improviser, which something all jazz artists should aspire to.
Marcus does some interesting covers in this CD. First off is the aforementioned “Frankenstein,” which works wonders. His “Moonlight Sonata” also deserves mention. It’s pretty…incredible. You recognize the tune of course, but then there’s this bass coming in more like a lead guitar, and he funks up the old Beethoven standard. He does this, not with the bass, which plays what is from the original for the most part, it’s the keyboards which make the song fit in with everything else. It’s a great song because we all know it and can feel it there, but it’s changed into a fusion song almost, okay not really, but the keyboard gives a fusion/blues vibe. “Power of Soul” is, as I said, where I got my first taste. This track works fluidly for Marcus’s bass, because it was intended for guitar. It’s a lot easier to transcribe guitar to bass than piano or horn to bass, and it works very well here.
Barring a few minor blemishes, this is quite an awesome CD. I could’ve used this space to cry about how I cannot play part of any of these songs on bass, but that would not have been a good use of time. Marcus Miller can play, he can bring together a great group of musicians, and he can put out a good, fun CD. That is all. Oh yeah, the title came from a Langston Hughes poem, just thought I’d mention, for some reason.
Boogie On Reggae Woman
Power of Soul