July 2001

Marcus Miller - M2
Telarc CD-83534
Released: 2001

by John Crossett

Musical Performance ****
Recording Quality ***1/2
Overall Enjoyment ****

[Reviewed on CD]Good bass players are a dime a dozen. Great bass players are, however, a much rarer breed. And when you start looking for multi-talented bassists, well, you’ve narrowed the field down to just a tiny handful (such as Charles Mingus, Stanley Clarke, Jaco Pastorious and Christian McBride). Marcus Miller falls into this last category, and with his latest release M2 (M Squared) he gives us a reminder of just how unique he really is.

Born in 1959, a cousin of the late jazz pianist Wynton Kelly, Miller has played with a veritable Who’s Who of modern music. From his time in Miles Davis' last group (he produced as well as played on the Davis albums Tutu and Amandla) to dates with Donald Fagen, Aretha Franklin, McCoy Tyner, Paul Simon, The Brecker Brothers and Mariah Carey, Miller has seen, heard, and done, well, if not all, then most of it. In many ways, Miller has become the embodiment of the role Charles Mingus saw as the destiny for musicians: the owner/creator/caretaker of his musical ideas.

M2 offers us a view of the multifaceted nature of Marcus Miller. From his creative abilities (he wrote nine of the 14 tunes here) to his skill at reworking old classic tunes in new and different ways, to his multi-instrumental talents, to his abilities as a producer, M2 illustrates what a treasure Miller is in today’s musical universe. While I was fond of Miller's own pieces recorded here, it was his reworking of Charles Mingus' "Goodbye Porkpie Hat," Billy Cobham’s "Red Baron" and John Coltrane’s "Lonnie’s Lament" that got me all shook up. I’m a real fan of all of these, and Miller’s versions can stand proudly next to them.

And check out the musicians who play with Miller on M2. James Carter, Kenny Garrett, Herbie Hancock, Branford Marsalis, Chaka Khan, Hubert Laws, Wayne Shorter, Lenny White, Mino Cinelu, Maceo Parker, Paul Jackson Jr., and Hiram Bullock, among others. Wow!

Although it's got the Telarc name on the cover, this is not, strictly speaking, a Telarc recording. Miller recorded this album himself under the 3 Deuces Records label that he started and then licensed the music to Telarc. Not that that should worry you, because the sound is up to Telarc's standards. Another point that bodes well for good sound is seeing Bob Ludwig's name under the heading "Mastered by."

Keeping in mind that there are many, many electronic instruments used on M2, the sonics are stunning. Bass, of course is deep, full and tight. You can hear the purr of the different electric basses that Miller uses here clearly. This disc will be a real test for your system's low-frequency-reproduction capabilities. The rest of the instrumentals are also easy to differentiate. It’s not a world-class recording, but it is highly listenable, and won’t embarrass you if you play it for your audiophile buddies. The soundstage is wide, but depth is foreshortened.

M2 is an appropriate title for this latest effort from Marcus Miller. He has taken his music and now made it more accessible through the use of a wider variety of differing styles. From funk to soul to rap to rock to jazz, there is something for everyone here to get excited about. And while you may not like all of Miller’s musical choices (and Lord knows I don’t), you will rejoice in his willingness to explore divergent areas of today’s music scene. Here’s hoping that M2 signals a beginning to further explorations.