Marcus Miller at The Bear’s Den (2013)

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All anyone could say following Marcus Miller’s jaw-dropping spell inside The Bear’s Den at Seneca Niagara Casino on Friday night was ‘wow.’

The electric bass extraordinaire and Miles Davis collaborator had just come into Western New York and given Jazz hounds a show they could inhale, examine, and draw artistic sustenance from, all the while only scratching the surface of what Miller and his group of young prodigies managed to conjure up from the cauldron.

Miller’s slap bass dynamic anchored an attack that pushed both the musicians and the audience to the limit, a dizzying cavalcade of arrangements designed to shift seamlessly between the mellifluous and the chaotic without keeping the crowd on the outside looking in.

Because the room is so private, each song felt as if the crowd was right on top of the action, and Miller utilized this point to his advantage every step of the way. Between the women yelling “Yeah, Marcus!” and the number of standing ovations that occurred before songs were even finished, the band internalized the exaltation, and propelled each other to turn in one of the best shows I’ve ever experienced.

The opener, “Mr. Clean,” was a stifling selection from 2012’s “Renaissance” that got things cooking early, but it was the subsequent flavor of “Detroit” and “Jekyll & Hyde” that elevated the evening from great to transcendent.

22-year-old saxophonist Alex Han stated his case as one of the finest young guns in jazz with an expressive style destined to be around for years to come. Every note he played evoked an authentic street vibe capable of hypnotizing the listener into submission, which is the mark of any innate performer.

He and trumpeter Lee Hogans traded musical blows back and forth throughout the evening, occasionally joining Miller for a trifecta of virtuosic interpretation.

The fact that every member played with a smile on their face served to amp the energy up even more, because everyone could feel how comfortable and equipped the artists were to be tackling this music together.

It’s in their blood, and not even a horrific bus accident in 2012 could keep them from tearing it up on a nightly basis.

When Miller wasn’t churning out funky, silky smooth grooves on his Fender Jazz Bass, he was allowing guitarist Adam Agati to shred as if the world was going to end at the stroke of midnight. Agati laid low during the early portion of the set, but, once Miller let him loose, there was no turning back.  He’s an assassin.

Throw some incredible work from pianist Brett Williams and drummer Jay Williams (no relation) into the mix and the show’s impression gets deeper and deeper.

“Gorée” stood as the emotional boiling point of the evening, as Miller led his squad through a haunting meditation inspired by the island on which slaves passed through on their way to the Americas. The subject is close to Miller’s heart and the unfiltered honesty bled though during the performance.

When it came time for the band to bid Western New York farewell, the consensus generated from those leaving the venue was that they had just been a part of something too incredible for words.

Somewhere, Miles was smiling and saying ‘wow.’

 

 

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