Stories of awe and laughter helped pass the time as patrons slowly filed into their seats for what was sure to be one of the most memorable nights in their collective lives. Marcus Miller, bassist and musician extraordinaire, strayed from his normal diet of jazz fest headlines and packed auditoriums to share an intimate set with St. Louis' most devout jazz fanatics -- 150 seats at a time.
The stage was unusually crowded, decked with extra speakers to properly serve the intensity of Miller's dynamic style in addition to the instruments for a six-man band. Frederico Gonzalez Peña started the evening with an electronic ambient tone off his Korg keyboard, which rested nicely on the Bistro's in-house baby grand. He was soon joined by Louis Cato on the drums supplying a peppy break rhythm to accompany Miller's ascent to the stage. The legend known to many as "M2" picked up his trademark Fender four-string, played a signature introductory slide-style note, and then the grooves began.
The lineup included Peña covering the full spectrum of organ and synthesizer in addition to the keyboard and piano, and Cato on a fairly standard drum kit. They were joined by Adam Agati playing guitar and decked in Texas souvenirs picked up during the tour's last stop in Austin, Lee Hogans on trumpet and Alex Han on alto and soprano saxophone. Miller didn't come packed lightly either, as the back of the stage displayed a four-string fretless and a five-string Fender (graced with his iconic pick guard), a bass clarinet and a professional array of pedals.
Earlier this year, Miller released his ninth solo studio album, "Renaissance," to compliment six live albums, 22 film scores, and innumerable albums with other musicians including Miles Davis, David Sanborn, and Luther Vandross. The band is touring to promote the album, which is composed of eight originals and five masterful covers, and its set was arranged entirely of songs from the new album.
Miller and company opened with "Mr. Clean," a mellow funk groove. After the leader laid down the bass line, he defied expectations of a grand display and immediately withdrew to support Hogans on the first solo. The solo was brief, but lively with peppy staccato scales. He soon gave way to Han on the alto sax. Han started with a blank, zombie-like stare to the back of the room and a selection of simple rhythmic licks, but gradually increased the level of skill and energy as the solo developed into a wild display of prowess. This was not the first time Han would impress the audience and lead his bandmates to step it up.
M2 asserted his bass magnificence in the second song of the evening, "Detroit," which is the opening track from the album. He would venture from main sequence with improvised breaks and signature riffs and was featured in a prolonged solo, with horns matching his sequences at key points. The solo developed slowly, but by the end, Miller was changing and blending styles with each passing bar, demonstrating vicious speeds, then sliding and bending notes and minds alike with the utmost precision. The solo finished with a display of chords and into a slap-funk conclusion.
Peña and Agati got their opportunities to shine in the appropriately titled "Jekyll & Hyde," a song Miller described as having a personality disorder. It balanced soft, soulful segments with louder, more vigorous segments with a rock and roll flavor. While the soft parts were sweet and professional, the band jammed hardest during the Mr. Hyde segments, including a shredding guitar solo from Agati, and divinely chaotic solo on the Moog.
The set also included a more solemn song about the slave trade called "Gorée (Go-ray)," and featured Miller on the bass clarinet, but the band played straight into "Slippin' Into Darkness," a fun cover of the classic War song that included a brief interpolation of Bob Marley's "Get Up, Stand Up." M2 slew the crowd with his final solo that left many audience members' faces drenched in joyous tears, and was happy to meet the fans after the show.
Jekyll & Hyde
Gorée (Go-ray) -> Slippin' Into Darkness
All photos by Wil Wander.