Monday, February 19, 2024

Marcus, on

Marcus Miller is probably the top electric bassist currently performing in jazz, funk, or soul. His closest competition would likely be Stanley Clarke, who performed with Miller in a bass trio (rounded out with Victor Wooten). Regardless, Miller has recorded (and often produced) some of the most popular jazz of his era, including some of the best regarded late-period Miles Davis. The bassist takes stock, while he keeps moving forward in Patrick Savey’s documentary Marcus, which premieres Thursday on

Late in
Marcus, Miller describes his music as “funk on the bottom and jazz on top.” That is rather apt. Although he has played with “smooth” musicians like David Sanborn and Kirk Whalum (who duly appear in Marcus), he has also performed and recorded with legends like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter (who are also celebrated alumni of Miles Davis’s bands). They two discuss Miller and Davis at length throughout Savey’s film. Yet, the first musician we see and hear in Marcus happens to be Ahmad Jamal, which is saying something.

Frankly, the music Davis recorded on Warner Brothers, after he left Columbia, is a bit hit-or-miss, but most critics and fans have a lot of respect for
Tutu, which Miller composed and largely structured in the studio in much the same way Two Macero did with Bitches Brew. Frankly, just hearing Miller discuss this process will be enough to satisfy most jazz fans. Then, listening to him revisit this music live, for the first time, with Christian Scott on trumpet, is quite a bonus.

Arguably, Miller has the chops and the depth to make fusion respectable for old school jazz fans, while his funk sensibility remains accessible to mainstream pop audiences. Nobody really says that outright in
Marcus, but the gist of it comes through loud and clear.

Savey basically gives viewers a Cliff Note biography of Miller and covers most of his career highlights in some depth, but the film is more about the music, in a holistic sense. It all sounds great and the film moves along nicely. Yet, there is an unexpected sadness knowing several of the great musicians who participated in the film are no longer with us, including Shorter and the much too young Roy Hargrove (who was part of Hancock’s Headhunters ’05, along with Miller).

Marcus definitely makes viewers want to take a deep dive into Miller’s music, which is the ultimate test of its effectiveness. For the curious, I stand by previous recommendation of Miller’s CD, also simply titled Marcus, more than ever, in fact. The film is also richly rewarding. Highly recommended for jazz and funk fans, Marcus starts streaming on this Thursday (2/22).