Sure, Marcus Miller hasn’t had a studio disc since 2008’s Marcus, but there are numerous reasons why this superior live set stands eye-level with his in-house efforts. This includes Miller’s use of the Monte-Carlo Philharmonic Orchestra as an instrument; copious amounts of killer fretless work and groove playing; fresh arrangements of his material; and new cover songs to interpret. The nine-track disc bounces off with “Blast,” Miller’s Middle-Eastern-meetsfunk throwdown from his last CD, here enhanced by orchestral call-and-response melodies and DJ Logic’s turntable solo. “So What,” a Miller staple, is invigorated by an arrangement that adapts themes from Bill Evans’s intro solo in the original Miles Davis version, as well as a stinging slap solo. “I Loves You Porgy,” another Marcus fave, boasts his best fretless blowing.
Elsewhere, Miller draws inspiration from his guests. Guitarist-vocalist Raul Midón’s pulsating hit “State of Mind,” and his vocals on a medley of Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” and the Brazilian samba classic “Mas Que Nada,” are driven by Marcus’s percolating, Pastorian 16th feels. Trumpeter Roy Hargrove is a major presence, buffeted by Miller’s muted fretless on the standard “I’m Glad There Is You,” and playing the Miles role on Miller’s “Amandla.” Finally, Miller breaks out his bass clarinet for the orchestra-aided “You’re Amazing Grace” and the mournful “Strange Fruit,” which features Herbie Hancock. U.S. orchestral shows would be welcomed.