When it Rains It Grooves

March 28, 2005

What makes the notes that emanate from Marcus Miller’s ’77 Jazz so appealing and attractive to the ear? One of the “secrets” is his ever-present sense of groove, born in his early New York club years, where failing to lock it down at all times could result in bodily harm! He comments, “I’ve developed melodies and solos that are really a kind of bass line; I don’t lose the beat or use any big spaces, and I maintain some repetition—so you can hear the notes and feel them at the same time.” His new disc, Silver Rain, continues this multi-sensory tradition.

Examples 1a and 1b are from “Bruce Lee.” Ex. 1a shows the opening melody, first heard 0:18 into the track. Note the phrase repetition, colored by vocal-like phrasings and subtle note changes, as well as the cool double-thumbed run at the end of bar 3. In Ex. 1b, the tune’s main melody (at 0:37), Marcus uses the same formula—most effectively in the third ending, which cleverly alters some pitches found in the first-ending melody. Ex. 2 captures the essence of the ascending “Frankenstein” bridge lick (at 3:34 and 5:25), which is stated by Marcus and then played in unison by the band.

Examples 3a and 3b are from Miller’s cover of Stevie Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman.” Ex. 3a shows Marcus’s descending 7-chord opening; he was playing this passage to warm up before the take, but he ended up liking it and keeping it. He thumb-slaps the roots and flamenco-plucks the 7ths (with his index finger) and the 3rds (with his middle finger). Ex. 3b evokes Marcus’s attempt at Stevie Wonder’s original opening bass line, with hammer-ons and pull-offs used in a nod to Stevie’s keyboard bass style.

Ex. 4 shows the main “Paris” melody, stated by Marcus at 0:21. Listen not only for his vocal-inspired inflections, but also the varying degrees of soft and hard plucking. Ex. 5 shows the main reggae-inspired bass line from “Silver Rain,” first heard at 0:15. Marcus de-tuned the E string on his ’77 Jazz to get the D in the 2nd and 4th endings, and he also placed some tissue paper under the strings, in front of the bridge, for dampening.

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