Marcus Miller has his own cozy cheerleading squad on "Silver Rain." Eartha Kitt purrs his name at the outset, as if to woo him into the recording studio. Later, Macy Gray, clearly in thrall to her "bassist's bassist," pops up on Prince's funk romp "Girls and Boys," a loosely arranged and contagiously free-spirited performance. Small wonder that Miller often sounds as if he's having even more fun than usual.
The guest list doesn't end there, though Eric Clapton's cameo on the album's reggae-flavored title track is strictly routine and makes Gray's arrival all the more welcome. Miller is better off when he's collaborating with her or some notable instrumentalists, including saxophonist Kenny Garrett and jazz harmonica player Gregoire Maret, or when he's left to his own myriad devices: four- and five-string electric basses (both the fretted and fretless variety), bass clarinet (imaginatively deployed on the Prince cover and Duke Ellington's "Sophisticated Lady") and all manner of keyboards and effects.
Virtuosity and audacity sometimes go hand in hand here, as when Miller hops from an exuberant take on Edgar Winter's "Frankenstein" to a slyly orchestrated update of Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata" to a colorfully reconfigured version of Stevie Wonder's "Boogie On Reggae Woman." At other stops along the way, the bassman turns in a pair of appealing, albeit sharply contrasting, tributes: A wide-open rendering of "Power of Soul," featuring blues guitarist Lucky Peterson, is devoted to its composer, Jimi Hendrix; "If Only for One Night," the album's bonus track, warmly evokes memories of singer Luther Vandross, Miller's late friend and longtime collaborator.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Sunday at the Birchmere and Tuesday at Rams Head Live in Baltimore.