MARCUS MILLER | London, Royal Festival Hall

There are few sounds in modern jazz more instantly recognisable than the trademark slap of Marcus Miller’s thumb against the strings of a bass guitar. Boasting a career that stretches across five fruitful decades, Miller has played on, produced and arranged more than 500 studio albums; he’s composed for Luther Vandross and Miles Davis. But, in the pooled purple light of his headline show at the Royal Festival Hall on Sunday evening, Miller ditches the slickness of studio production for an explosive set of high-octane funk and stinging, springing jazz.

There are nods to his 2015 project Afrodeezia here with the Senegalese-imbued ‘Hylife’ and the hypnotic, brooding ‘B’s river’, but the set spans further yet – later, we’re treated to elusive covers of ‘A Night in Tunisia’ and ‘I Loves You Porgy’. That most fêted talent of Miller’s is in firm evidence here: in his masterful hands, the bass guitar effortlessly metamorphoses into melodic lead. Rarely does he let a ballad resolve without whisking it up into an electrifying solo. There’s stirling support from his fresh-faced ensemble too, particularly from pyrotechnic alto saxophonist Alex Han. Miller’s swaggering showmanship propels us: he suggests ‘Papa was a Rolling Stone’ with a cool two-note signal – letting the silences in between each phrase hang in the air. ‘We played this for you before’, he grins. ‘But we got better.’

The undoubtable highlight for me is a stirring tribute to his father – ‘Preacher’s Kid’ – where Miller moves onto bass clarinet. Miller leads his ensemble like a church orator with a mere nod of the head, before returning to the stage for an encore of The Jackson Five’s ‘I’ll be there’, which erupts into a thunderous, glorious ensemble funkjam.

The 2017 EFG London Jazz Festival continues until Sunday 19 November.

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