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Marcus Miller's Renaissance Band Gets Funky in Austin

Anthony Dean-Harris
Editor-in-Chief / @i_ADH

They, you know that they who pass sayings from person to person to wherever you hear these things, say Austin is the "Live Music Capital of the World", but from time to time you hear someone, who may have heard it from another version of they, say Austin also has a bit of a blind spot for jazz. It's a point I may have brought up here once or twice. Nevertheless, I was intrigued by how this musicians' "velvet rut" as I recently learned on an episode of Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations would treat Marcus Miller and his band from his latest album, Renaissance. Spoiler alert: they treated the group quite well.

The second set of the September 7th show at the 300-seat One World Theatre, an imitation Tuscan villa in the Austin Hill Country, was nearly packed; about half the crowd looked to be some variation of my parents at this kind of show (Generation Jones' black folk dressed up for the jazz show, best to go with linens and gators), older white folks who'd be attending a jazz show at a Tuscan villa in West Austin, and a few young sprightly jazz whippersnappers with awestruck eyes, proof positive that jazz will always live. The look of the crowd isn't a foreign world to me (though perhaps it was a bit of an adaptation for sporadic contributing writer J.D. Swerzenski). Miller's music has always been on the fore of smooth jazz. He's a revolutionary, likely the originator of the sound you may know of from the height of the smooth jazz era before countless imitators watered it all down. This crowd has followed him for years1 and Miller had this crowd from the very start of the evening. They hooted and hollered. They were moved every step of the way. One could imagine this show would have been just as gripping in an arena but the small venue made sure every "Preach! and"Testify! from the crowd were the touches of the show that meant there all along.

The set (six songs and a two song encore) was made up entirely of songs from Miller's latest album, Renaissance; the intention of the tour is the same as on the album-- the renowned bassist has put together this young band of Alex Han on tenor sax, Lee Hogans on trumpet, Adam Agati on guitar, Federico Gonzalez Peña on keys, and Louis Cato on drums to give a different backdrop to Miller's iconic sound and to showcase these young men's talent. The sextet certainly had many moments to play with Miller's signature funk flourishes. The young group fit quite nicely into Miller's unique style, known for its spearheading the smooth jazz/funk sound. Most notably, drummer Cato solidly plays with the steady thumping that fits well with the funk tones that Miller orchestrates. Judging from the crowd, much of the performance was definitely more from the heart than from the head, while still showing a certain overall adeptness. Guitarist Agati exudes a bravado that fits perfectly in this group, melding into the compositions well but whose flourishes are noteworthy. However, the standout of the group is saxophonist Alex Han who seems poised to have a quite promising career. Han has been alongside Miller for a few years now (his spotlight on Miller's 2010 live album, A Night in Monte Calro is worth revisiting), yet it'll be interesting to see where he'll go in a solo career. The passion and skill he showed Friday night is a delight to witness in person and Lord only knows what the future holds for this young talent.

Ultimately, Friday night's show had everything one could love from Marcus Miller's Renaissance but live. The evening proved that this is certainly an album worth copping and even moreso that this is a band worth seeing if their tour makes it your way.

1. A few weeks back, Los Angeles jazz writers Sean J. O'Connell and Chris Barton both covered a show at the Hollywood Bowl in which Esperanza Spalding was opening for Anita Baker. Both O'Connell and Barton made special note of the crowd who seemed slightly indifferent to Spalding, likely because while she gave a great performance, they were all there for Anita. (The words "Quiet Storm" showed up in both their reviews.) I knew how this crowd looked immediately. I know this tribe well. That's the crowd who attended this Marcus Miller show. These are my people and some of them attend smooth jazz cruises.

Anthony Dean-Harris hosts the modern jazz radio show, The Line-Up, Fridays at 9pm CST on 91.7 FM KRTU San Antonio. More of his writing can be found at his blog, In Retrospect and you can also follow him on Twitter.