Bobby McFerrin is one of the real indefinable geniuses of this generation’s music, and it would be a head-scratching injustice if he had no recording contract. True, many other deserving and original jazz artists are without contracts too. But McFerrin’s music is so unique, if not yet hugely influential among numerous imitators (the flattering acknowledgement of an artist’s widespread importance), that its absence would be a loss for us all.
Building upon his previously established talents as a virtual one-man-band--complete with percussion, song, horns and effects McFerrin has moved beyond his status as a one-hit-wonder through sheer force of will and expansion of his creative interests. Bobby McFerrin doesn’t just sing and encourage audience interaction; he leads symphony orchestras. He doesn’t just take full advantage of his 4-octave range to come up with whatever devices are just right for the textures of a song; he absorbs the cultures of the world for a vaster richness. Indeed, McFerrin’s uncontainable interests cross over so many categories that Blue Note is sharing with classical label Angel Records the marketing of Beyond Words.
The culmination of two decades of musical exploration, Beyond Words,
consisting almost entirely of McFerrin’s compositions, encompasses...
Stripping away the accoutrements of conventional jazz expression, those accoutrements being the instruments, McFerrin reduces music to its elemental essentials, voice and percussion. Accompanying himself for the first time on keyboards, McFerrin finds textures and atmosphere in the elaboration of instrumental voicings, such as Gil Goldstein’s Gallic allusions on "Chanson." When McFerrin investigates Middle Eastern patterns on "Dervishes," he brings in another musicians who is as interested in representing natural rhythms and human sounds as McFerrin: percussionist Cyro Baptista.
However, the best-known contributor to Beyond Words
is that now-legend of jazz, Chick Corea, whose light, closely noted chords are instantly identifiable on "Ziggurat" or "Invocation." In tribute to Corea’s similar interests in widespread musical activities and unbounded curiosity about new sonic enhancements in his music, McFerrin includes one composition not of his own pen, so to speak, on Beyond Words:
Corea’s "Windows." Perhaps due to such deference, "Windows" receives the most literal delivery on the CD, voice becoming instrument and piano becoming voice joined in counterpoint.
Overdubbing his own voice to create a choral effect on some songs like "A Silken Road," McFerrin uses the initial canonical structure of such a song to pile on layers of harmony and percussive effects. McFerrin involves his own son, Taylor, in providing the vocal percussion behind him on "Taylor Made," yet another tune of an odd meter that pulls in the listener with its movement through repetitive figures.
McFerrin’s point is well taken: Music has
moved beyond words, as the instruments imitate the feelings conveyed by the human voice, words in the Babel-like confusion of frustrated communication becoming irrelevant. The irony, though, is that McFerrin brings the music back to the voice as he uses the melodies sometimes crafted by instruments. And the advantage is the any listener anywhere in the world can understand what McFerrin wants to express because the barriers of language are removed.