Suddenly, there’s no electricity in the concert hall in Paris, so Miles Davis’ bassist Marcus Miller puts down his electric instrument and picks up a saxophone and plays bass notes on it to accompany the trumpeter’s solo. After a while, Davis turns to Miller and asks, “Aren’t you going to play bass?”
“He hadn’t realized the electricity had gone off,” Miller recalls of this performance from the early ‘80s. “That’s how much he was into what he was doing.”
Miller’s association with Davis remains the high point of the bassist’s 15-year career. He not only performed with the legendary trumpeter from 1980 to 1982, he produced several of Davis’ most successful albums, among them “The Man With the Horn” for CBS Records and “Tutu” and “Amandla” for Warner Bros.
Miller, who has been dubbed “The Superman of Soul,” has also produced albums for David Sanborn, Luther Vandross, Aretha Franklin, Chaka Khan and Al Jarreau. But he feels it’s time that people know him for his own work, so he’s released “The Sun Don’t Lie” on PRA Records.
The album is an expansive contemporary jazz collection that spans a range of musical moods. There’s the easy groove of “Steveland,” where saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Sanborn solo, and the insistent drive of “Rampage,” where Davis makes a brief cameo.
The title track explores softness, with pianist Joe Sample and steel drummer Andy Narell adding the most listenable improvisations, while “The King Is Gone (For Miles)” finds Shorter, drummer Tony Williams and bassist-bass clarinetist Miller smoking on an altered blues.
“The Sun Don’t Lie” is Miller’s first solo date in almost a decade. It follows two albums done in the mid-'80s for Warner Bros., to which he was under contract.
When Warners didn’t pick up its option for another album, Miller, a native of Queens, N.Y., formed a trio called the Jamaica Boys, which included another hometown buddy, drummer Lenny White. The band, which is on hiatus, had a hit with the bassist’s “Shake It Up,” which was spotlighted in the successful film “House Party.”
Miller, now 32, says he took such a long time to make another solo album because he just wasn’t ready.
“On my early albums, I didn’t feel I had identified who I was as an artist,” he says. “What had worked for me as a sideman was that I could become who I needed to be for these different people, but when I tried to do my own thing, I got caught up in ‘Which is my real personality?’
“This time, I began to listen to what tunes I had written for other people, and myself, as if I were a third party, and that helped me discover myself,” Miller says. “So good or bad, I feel the album is definitely me.”
Although the bassist shopped the album to several major labels, he opted to go with a new entry, PRA, owned by his manager, Patrick Raines. He says major labels can only promote a new release for a brief period, because there is such a steady stream of albums. “But we can stay with this as long as it makes sense,” he says.
Miller, who usually experiences high anxiety when he releases an album, said that’s not the case with “The Sun Don’t Lie.” “If it does great, well, that’s OK. If not, well, at least I documented where I was,” he says.
Asked about his years with Davis, the bassist said: “He was like a father figure, so supportive. He told me, ‘Man, you’re in a creative period. Just keep writing. I remember when Wayne (Shorter) was in a period like that.’ I look back on it now and realize it was one of the most important times in my life. He really helped me develop my style.”