Jazz is a genre usually associated with Christmas and the first half of the 1900s, created by black Americans and loved by all – at least in the past. Though its days in the sun have waned, Marcus Miller is one contemporary artist who demonstrates the continuing power of jazz music.
On my flight from Paris to Nairobi, I plugged in the Air France earbuds to the plane’s free music collection and chose some familiar jazz tunes. Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole crooned through their albums as I soared over Europe. Though I say I love jazz, my repertoire is honestly pretty minimal, just the aforementioned classics, Sinatra, Doris Day, and such.
Wanting to change that, I tapped on Marcus Miller’s 2018 “Laid Black” album, one I had never heard, and was immediately swept away.
How often does a song or album make one drop everything and work to keep composure? On a monthly basis, yearly? Marcus Miller’s “Laid Black” evokes this reaction throughout the album.
Track one, “Trip Trap,” carried me to summer parks with big bands playing. I would be thrilled to hear this song on a Sunday evening at City Park in Denver.
If the initial track transported me, the next one slayed me. Selah Sue features in Miller’s unique rendition of “Que Sera Sera” that caused my mouth to form a shocked and grateful sort of smile while my eyes opened in amazement and teared at the edges.
It is the kind of song I would want to replay with my eyes closed a few times and then dance to once I had picked myself up off the floor. In fact, I did replay the song and the entire album. Oh. Le. Le. What a piece of beauty.
Track three, “7-Ts,” begins with a Miller’s skilled bass line before artist Trombone Shorty enters. “Sublimity ‘Bunny’s Dream’,” the next on the album, continues with Marcus Miller’s brassy melodies in a mellow tune with light drum brushes.
Next up, “Untamed” starts with keys like that of a trap song, running do-mi-re-so-mi-fa, adds a bass melody, and continues to a steady beat with some filler brass. It takes the album from the big band era into 2018 and ends with piano.
A person can jive to the next track, “No Limit,” in which Miller continues to favor his bass. His use of brass harks back to West African music’s influence on African Americans and the music they have created over the centuries, and particularly in jazz.
On track seven he uses a guitar melody to tap into a melancholy chord. You will want to slow dance with your lover to “Somebody to Love” as Miller’s soft vocals come in over the piano. The song stirred a beautiful sort of sadness within me as I flew over Greece a world away from my own “someone.”
Miller’s album continues with the more upbeat “Keep ‘Em Running,” which mixes jazz with some old school rap and a hint of scatting. The man is astounding.
As a preacher’s kid, I was interested in the ninth and final track by this name. The song, running 7 minutes and 43 seconds, is the longest on the album. It begins with a capella “ooos” before building in instruments. Saxophones cross over each other, wailing for the spotlight in the sixth minute before voices hum to a close on this primarily instrumental album.
I’m shook. Tracks two and seven captured me in particular, and the big band sounds crossing with other genres throughout the album remind the listener that jazz is still a part of contemporary black history and thus contemporary American history. Miller’s integration of styles over jazz eras is simply incredible, and the entire album leaves me amazed and wanting more.
Thank you, Marcus Miller, for creating such a beautiful and powerful work of art, one with the ability to bring together both couples and communities. Thank you for your excellence and for adding beauty to our lives.
Cover image from https://www.amazon.com/Marcus-Miller/e/B000APXTVW