Marcus Miller,
The Ozell Tapes:
The Official Bootleg

(Telarc, 2003)

You have enrolled in the University of Jazz. Welcome to your first class: Bass Guitar as a Lead Instrument in a Jazz Ensemble 101. Your instructor is Marcus Miller.

As a session musician, producer, songwriter, composer of film scores, singer, solo artist and bandleader, Miller has amassed a discography of well over 500 albums. He is the bassist most likely to be named by other musicians, especially bass players when asked to name the great bassists of all time.

The Ozell Tapes was recorded by Dennis Thompson, Miller's sound engineer, direct from the mixing board to minidisc during a tour in the spring of 2002. In the liner notes, Miller describes that when he heard these recordings, his first thought was "we should release this music just like this -- no fancy multitrack mixes, just direct from the mixing board. It would be like a bootleg but better!"

Miller's style of bass playing is instantly recognizable in just about every recording he's ever done, and his signature sound jumps right out at you on the first track, "Power." Horns decorate what is essentially a showcase for Miller's technique in a nice jazz workout for bass, trumpet and sax. Miller cranks up the jazz/funk engine and keeps it revving throughout this two-disc set. Miller spent a good number of years working with Miles Davis, and if you didn't pick up the Davis influence on the first track, the next song "So What" was written by Davis in 1959. Michael Stewart, here performing on trumpet, is clearly up to the task, as are Roger Byan on tenor sax, Bruce Flowers who turns in a nice Hammond B-3 organ solo, Dean Brown on guitar and Miller, who not only solos but drives the entire tune with his bass.

Class continues with an almost 11-minute rendering of the John Coltrane classic, "Lonnie's Lament" complete with a great funky rhythm core of bass and drums with a nice overlay of guitar and keys. Miller solos way high on the bass almost as if it's a lead guitar. Poogie Bell gets a little drum solo on "Cousin John" with Miller providing another patented bass line. The smokin' hot jazz workout continues on every track, alternating jazz classics such as George Gershwin's "I Love You Porgy" and Miller originals with most tracks clocking in at 10 minutes or more. "Panther" even includes a bit of Isaac Hayes' "Theme from Shaft." The band is clearly having a blast playing this music.

Disc two opens with "3 Deuces," with the bass and drums meshing in the classic rhythm section style, and hits maybe the tightest groove in this set; the rhythm section pumps while the keyboard, guitar and sax all crank out white-hot solos. A little "Amazing Grace" on solo sax leads into "Your Amazing Grace" with Lalah Hathaway on vocals; her talent also elevates "When Your Life Was Low." Whether you'll like the old Talking Heads song "Burning Down the House" as a hot jazz workout may depend on how you feel about the original song; I'd have preferred to hear Miller drop in one of the fine tunes from his days as a member of the Jamaica Boys.

Miller has turned "People Make the World Go 'Round" into a signature tune by playing it in concert for many years and here he offers an 11-minute jazz treatment with Hathaway on vocals as a concert encore. As an additional encore, Hathaway sings a beautiful take on her father's classic composition, "Killing Me Softly." The disc ends with a 19-minute-long "Miles/Marcus Medley," a burning hot tribute to Miles Davis.

If you'd like to hear pure jazz played live in concert by one of the masters of the genre in a high intensity performance, you can't miss with The Ozell Tapes. Your homework for tonight is to put on this disc, crank it up really loud and let Marcus Miller take you wherever he wants to go. Term papers are not required.

- Rambles
written by William Kates
published 17 July 2004

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