Marcus Miller’s musical ‘Renaissance’

A generation is roughly defined as a period of about 30 years. Thirty years ago – in the early ‘80s – America was rolling with Ronald Reagan at the wheel and his conservative “back to family values” tenets.

A similar traditionalism was also being adopted by several prominent up-and-coming jazz musicians. While most of the then-young flock was looking back, Marcus Miller was looking ahead. By the middle of that decade in 1986, Marcus – the musician, composer and producer – was at the helm of one of the most impactful modern jazz masterpieces of the era with some futuristic roots music he composed for the legendary Miles Davis entitled “Tutu.”

Now with “Renaissance” in 2012, Marcus Miller surveys the landscape of not just music but society as a whole. In the same profound way that anointed gospel-soul singer Sam Cooke prophesized 50 years before in 1963, Miller feels that “a change is gonna come.”

And just as with “Tutu,” he is ahead of the storm with “Renaissance,” for release on Aug. 7, 2012 from Concord Jazz, a division of Concord Music Group.

Fortified by a team of hungry young players that includes trumpeters Sean Jones and Maurice Brown, alto saxophonist Alex Han, drummer Louis Cato, guitarists Adam Agati and Adam Rogers, and keyboardist Kris Bowers along with veteran keys wizards Federico Gonzalez Peña and Bobby Sparks, Miller is creating the soundtrack for this musical, cultural and spiritual revolution.

“I feel like a page is turning,” Miller muses. “The last of our heroes are checking out and we are truly entering a new era. Politically, things have polarized and are coming to a head. Musically, we’ve got all these cool ways to play and share music – MP3 files, internet radio and satellite radio – but the music is not as revolutionary as the media. It’s time for a rebirth.”

Renaissance finds Miller offering up an especially emotive 13-song collection that includes eight richly inspired original compositions that swing from a tip of the porkpie to the CTI Records sound of the 70s (“CEE-TEE-EYE”) to an introspective and ultimately hope-filled rumination about the island off the coast of Dakar in Africa known as “Gorée (Go-ray).”

“Renaissance” also includes five cover songs that canvas works by soul-jazz culture band WAR, new wave-soul starlet Janelle Monáe, New York jazz dignitary Weldon Irvine, Brazilian musical ambassador Ivan Lins and Christian composer Luther “Mano” Hanes. Though the CD primarily features Miller’s smokin’ new band, it also features special guest vocalists Dr. John, Rubén Blades and Gretchen Parlato.

“Renaissance is a word that resonates on a lot of different levels for me,” Miller explains. “It’s about getting back to the essential aspects of art. I’m focusing less on production and more on composition, so this is a very clear album for me. People have often called me a ‘Renaissance Man.’Deeper still, “Renaissance” houses some of Marcus’ most inspired and emotionally penetrating writing to date – particularly “Gorée (Go-ray)” which was inspired by a visit Marcus and his impressionable young band paid to the African island historically remembered as a warehouse for human cargo before it was shipped from the motherland to places elsewhere for the people to become slaves.

Marcus’ current touring band consists of trumpeter Maurice Brown (Tedeschi Trucks Band, Maya Azucena, Aretha Franklin), alto saxophonist Alex Han (Paquito D’Rivera, James Moody, Geri Allen), drummer Louis Cato (Beyoncé, Q-Tip, Sean Jones), guitarist Adam Agati (Lalah Hathaway, El Movimiento and Mary Mary), and 2011 Thelonious Monk International Jazz Piano Competition Award winner keyboardist Kris Bowers (Louis Hayes, Jay-Z & Kanye West, José James).

“I’ve got these next generation musicians in their 20s with me now that aren’t afraid of breaking boundaries,” Marcus concludes. “They’re absorbing and admiring the whole picture – from Clifford Brown to J.Dilla – honestly feeling both sides which, to my Black Experience, is what it’s all about. This young band fears nothing so we are free to go anywhere. I’m finding that to be incredibly inspiring. I am writing music for us that encompasses the full landscape.”

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