A new album featuring a bassist, producer, composer Marcus Miller is scheduled for release in early 2011. A Night In Monte-Carlo, recorded in 2008, is a unique-sounding record featuring songs composed and/or arranged by Miller, for a concert commissioned in Monaco.
On the recording, Miller leads his quartet and is backed by the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra. Special guests include trumpeter Roy Hargrove as well as singer, songwriter and guitarist Raul Midón.
Miller has performed in Monaco many times, and often spends down time there, as he’s a race car buff and Grand Prix enthusiast. The setting was the 600-seat Monte-Carlo Opera House, and Miller enjoyed both the environment and the orchestra there.
“The ceiling and every wall beneath is adorned with the most unbelievable murals,” Miller shared. “The setting was gorgeous. The Monte-Carlo Orchestra was very hip. They were enthusiastic about my music and understood right away the sound I was trying to get. After the first day of rehearsal, they all lined up to shake my hand! That put me totally at ease and made this the most satisfying experience I’ve ever had with a symphony. My band and the orchestra became good friends over those three days of rehearsal.”
The music on A Night in Monte-Carlo spans almost 25 years of music from opera to jazz, including a modernized spiritual and a timeless ballad. The program opens with “Blast!” from Miller’s 2008 release Marcus, with an explosive sound of Miller’s quartet and the orchestra.
Miles Davis’ “So What” follows the opener, from Davis’ 1959 Kind of Blue. “The original recording has a beautiful Bill Evans solo piano introduction that most musicians never play when they cover the tune,” Miller said. “I took that intro and gave it a full orchestration that leads into some nice stretched out playing from Alex Han on alto sax and Federico Gonzalez Peña on piano. I loved the contrast between the orchestra and DJ Logic on turntables. The string players were looking at him like, ‘What’s that he’s doing?’ while Logic was glancing over his shoulder, blown away by what they were playing. That’s what this was all about.”
“I Loves You Porgy” features Miller’s take on the Gershwin opera “Porgy & Bess”, on fretless bass.
The orchestra takes a break on the next piece, when “one-man band” Raul Midón takes the stage to sing “State of Mind”, a composition featured on his 2005 album. Miller accompanies on bass with Peña adding udu (an African percussion instrument).
The orchestra returns for “Amandla”, a tune Miller wrote for Miles Davis for the duo’s second album together, Amandla, released in 1989. The tune features trumpeter Roy Hargrove, a musician Miller says “… is one of the baddest trumpet players out there,” Miller shares. “We’re always passing each other in airports and at festivals. When I hosted the North Sea Jazz Cruise, I made sure to invite him as one of my guests. I had to bring him back for this show. His sound is gorgeous on this tune and he really opens up on his solo.”
Hargrove stays in the spotlight with a version of the 1941 tune “I’m Glad There Is You” on flugelhorn.
Giacomo Puccini’s “O mio babbino caro (Oh, my dear papa),” is the second of the more traditional opera pieces performed that night, with Miller performing the melody. This tune leads into the grand finale, the Brazilian pop classic “Mas Que Nada.” Miller is no stranger to the tune, having produced a version of the song for Al Jarreau’s 1994 CD/DVD project Tenderness. Miller performs a version of that arrangement here, with Poogie Bell’s drums backing the performance along with Hargrove trading trumpet lines with Midón’s “voice trumpet.”
The album closes with two tracks, including Miller’s contemporary take on “Amazing Grace”, dubbed “Your Amazing Grace”, a tune Miller performs on bass clarinet. The last tune, an “11th hour addition”, is “Strange Fruit”, a tune first performed in 1939 by Billie Holiday on the stage of Café Society and recorded in Miller’s Los Angeles recording studio. Miller also performs this tune on bass clarinet, with Herbie Hancock accompanying him on piano.
Reflecting on the Monte Carlo concert, Marcus shares, “I loved that the audience was full of so many people who had never experienced anything like this. Some were jazz lovers who’d never been to a symphony or vice versa, or young people seeing their first jazz concert. Personally, I was very inspired by the collaboration with the orchestra…so much so that the sound lingered in my mind long afterward. When I returned to my studio in Los Angeles, I arranged and recorded “Strange Fruit” and added it as a bonus track to the Monte Carlo CD as a reflection of the impression this experience has left on me.”
A Night in Monte-Carlo will be released by Concord Music Group on February 1, 2011.