For some of us, summer music releases are as exciting, if not more so, than summer blockbusters. One such blockbuster is Marcus Miller's second Blue Note date, Laid Black, which was released by the label on June 1. With only two out of nine tracks falling short, and combined with names from the worlds of both jazz and gospel, Miller seamlessly blends heartfelt beauty with crowd-energizing funk.
The most striking observation one makes with this release is that Miller has been busy composing, not just performing, in the last 3 years since his previous Blue Note release, Afrodeezia. Miller wrote, or co-wrote, 8 of the cuts on this album, flawlessly evoking quiet contemplation while still exciting the listener into wanting more.
Surprisingly, it is the ballads on the album that compel the listener to return to the album. Millers original pieces “Sublimity ‘Bunny’s Dream’,” “Someone to Love,” and “Preacher’s Kid” are earnest, evocative piece that take the listener through a series of emotional phases. The addition of the group Take 6 to “Preacher’s Kid” takes the listener back to the church of Miller’s youth, listening to a choir directed by Miller’s father. Along with the original ballads, the modernized arrangement of “Que Sera Sera” is masterfully done. Aided by Belgian vocalist Selah Sue, whose performance is reminiscent of early-00s Macy Gray, with less of a rasp, this version provides the hopeful optimism and laissez-faire attitude of the original, with a slightly mournful quality that underscores the anxiety one might feel when attempting to let "whatever will be" be.
While the ballads are enough to bring any listener back, there is no shortage of danceable cuts on the album. Exquisitely layering sampled vocals and live horns over his signature bass style, Miller provides ample opportunity for his audience to move. “Untamed,” “Keep ‘Em Runnin’,” and even the live cut “Trip Trap” prove Miller can still drive audiences to the dance floor with fun, innovative, improvisational jazz.
Anyone listening to Laid Black will not be disappointed by Marcus Miller’s latest offering. Even the two tracks that miss the mark are still enjoyable. Miller’s improvisation and creative vision have combined to create a truly delightful experience. Driving the audience all the way through a sonically emotional countryside, Miller delicately and expertly balances beauty and the beat.