MARCUS MILLER'S work with Miles Davis, Aretha Franklin and Luther Vandross has established him as one of the best bassists and one of the best arranger/producers in pop music today. Miller, though, has never been much of a songwriter or singer, so it's no surprise that "J Boys," Miller's second album as leader of the Jamaica Boys, boasts some of the year's most memorable grooves and most forgettable songs. It's the kind of album that's perfect for a dance club or party but will bore anyone determined to sit down and listen.
The Jamaica Boys (named after a neighborhood in Queens, not an island in the Caribbean) is a trio consisting of Miller, former Return to Forever drummer Lenny White and newcomer keyboardist Dinky Bingham -- with guitarist Bernard Wright as an associate member. All four are terrific musicians, and they give the heavy funk grooves the slippery, sliding feel of the classic Sly Stone and George Clinton tracks.
Stone and Clinton, though, always strived to make the top of a song as interesting as the bottom, and that's where the Jamaica Boys come up short. Fellow musicians will be dazzled by the combination of intricacy and power on the syncopated rhythm tracks, but radio listeners will want more than the throwaway melodies and lyrics on these songs. The jingly rhythmic hooks of "Shake It Up" (which first appeared in the film "House Party") and "Somebody Like You" are hard to resist but one keeps waiting for Davis's horn or Vandross's voice to come along and complete the track.