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2010 release from the 10-time Grammy Award winner/vocal innovator, his first new release in eight years. Like his #1 worldwide hit song 'Don't Worry Be Happy' and his multi-platinum duo album, Hush, with cellist Yo-Yo Ma, VOCAbuLarieS is based on Bobby's experiments with multi-track recording and his ceaseless exploration of the potential of the human voice. VOCAbuLarieS is Bobby McFerrin music for the 21st century. A collaboration with the composer/arranger/producer Roger Treece, VOCAbuLarieS features over fifty of the world's finest singers, recorded one at a time and in small groups to create a virtual choir made up of over 1,400 vocal tracks.
About the Artist
"There is something almost superhuman about the range and technique of Bobby McFerrin," says Newsweek. "He sounds, by turns, like a blackbird, a Martian, an operatic soprano, a small child, and a bebop trumpet." But despite the undeniable uniqueness of his gift, Bobby's music is always accessible and inviting. When he invites his fans to sing along, as he almost always does, few can resist. Inclusiveness, play, and the universality of voices raised together in song are at the heart of Bobby's art. Bobby McFerrin was exposed to a multitude of musical genres during his youth--classical, R&B, jazz, pop and world musics. "When you grow up with that hodgepodge of music, it just comes out. It was like growing up in a multilingual house," he says. Bobby McFerrin continues to explore the musical universe, known and unknown. Drawing on all genres, demonstrating matchless improvisational skills, he never fails to dazzle. He never seems to run out of new ideas, and he loves having no clue what's going to happen next. Ask him where he went to school, and he just might tell you that he is a graduate of MSU: Making Stuff Up. "Music for me," McFerrin says, "is like a spiritual journey down into the depths of my soul. And I like to think we're all on a journey into our souls. What's down there? That's why I do what I do."
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Put this disc into your c.d. changer, and press it to track 7, "Brief Eternity." Now, picture this scenario: You have been battling cancer for a year. You have finally reached the end, where you don't drink, you don't eat, and your grip on life has reached the subconscious terminus. As you feel your spirit going to the light, as you begin to climb Jacob's ladder, imagine this as the music you hear.
Needless to say, buy this c.d. for that track alone.
Yet, what that track really is is the final exclamation point on what is a choral masterpiece.
In the period of 1986-1998 or so, Bobby McFerrin was one of the finest working jazz singers in the world. Although the pop culture knows him for probably the most annoying one-hit wonder ever, "Don't Worry Be Happy," the rest of the world knew him as one with an incredible vocal range and even more incredible imagination. For all the great work he did during that time frame, my favorite album by far was "Medicine Music." There, Bobby McFerrin multi-tracked his voice and created a chant that was an intoxicating blend of swing, classical, and African elegy that was both unique and intoxicating.
Then, McFerrin left the performing world for a brief while and explored the world of classical music in St. Paul, Minnesota.
This is his first recording in 8 years, but it's a showcase for him as conductor and arranger more than as singer. With the incredible efforts of singer, arranger and co-producer, Roger Treece, he (they) have created a choral masterpiece. It is an extension of "Medicine Music," but with even more layers of sound and more complexities. Hence, I call it "neo-chantical."
And they have reprised and recast 3 of the best songs from "Medicine Music" -"Baby" (track 1), "The Garden" (track 5) and "He Ran (before "All the Way," now "To the Train," track 6), into multiple-layered, multiple-keyed and multiple tempi works of art.
Any recording with a chorus of singers such as those from The New York Voices, Moss and the Manhattan Transfer, just for starters, is bound to be special. But for the 50-voiced extravaganza this is, I could imagine an honor choir of a number of colleges with 100 or more voices doing an even more inspired rendition of this album under a baton such as Maestro McFerrin.
This c.d. is truly special. There just aren't enough stars in the universe to give it. I can't imagine what c.d. in 2010 will top it - and so far, this has been a pretty good year. RC
p.s.: 6/4/10 - I received the July 2010 issue of Down Beat, and was shocked. Their "big 4 critics" rate this between 2 and 3 and 1/2 stars. They use words and phrases like "bland arrangements," "ambiguously originated world music vibe," "unlistenable spiritual quest," "More a construction project than a performance," "a record that does seem to spill on and on and on," "off-putting," and "I know I'll never listen to this music again." I don't usually think of myself missing the boat that badly, but I guess according to these experts, I did. I've listened to this numerous times since writing my initial review, and I still think it's a masterpiece; but maybe the way to reconcile the divergent opinions is to say that it's a choral masterpiece, and Down Beat isn't very in to choral music. I do note that like me, Christopher Loudon of Jazz Times raved about this c.d. RC
This man. I would shine his shoes with my tears and the spittle from my meager beatboxing.
This album is phenomenal vocal genius. Angelic, even. An African/Christian style all it's own.
God Bless Bobby McFerrin. God has blessed me with Bobby McFerrin. Lotta years.
Lotta years is a great rap song, with which I empathize. Bobby, I want to shake your hand.
Seven years in the making, Vocabularies is certainly the most ambitious McFerrin project to date. And it may very well be his magnum opus, for it is on this album that virtually all of McFerrin's wide-ranging musical interests are brought together in perfect balance. In a way, all of McFerrin's prior output has led up to this moment, the realization of a lifetime of artistic achievement.
I have always felt that the one thing missing from McFerrin's writing was the ability to take his fresh ideas and fully develop them harmonically and compositionally. Fortunately for all of us, McFerrin has found the perfect collaborator in composer/arranger and conductor Roger Treece, whose prodigious gifts give McFerrin's ideas the harmonic and developmental lift they so deserve. The two worked together closely, first gathering McFerrin's ideas from past albums, recorded improvisations, etc., and then weaving them into substantial compositions that average about 10 minutes in length.
Each piece is a journey unto itself; African, Eastern European, jazz, Western classical, R&B, and pop elements bump up against each other, blending and recombining in a constantly shifting kaleidoscope of harmony and rhythm. Singers were brought together from various disciplines, including world, classical, and R&B, to form a versatile virtual choir, facilitating the ability to create unprecedented choral timbres. I'm told that there were over 1400 vocal tracks in all. Lyrics were written in everything from Arabic to Zulu, comprising 15 languages. While there are moments of Bobby's signature playful improvisations, for the most part the album is made up of through-composed music.
Superficially, this album hearkens back to the vocal complexities of Medicine Music, one of Bobby's most satisfying efforts, in which he overdubbed his voice to create an a cappella chorus that employed a minimum of percussion to augment the grooves. In a way, Vocabularies is a sort of Medicine Music on steroids. In fact, three of the seven tracks on this album are re-workings of songs off of that album. But it's as though they've gone from black-and-white to color, from animated short to epic film. Consider the opening track, "Baby." Conceived as an innocent nursery rhyme with an African-folk feel, it is here turned into a convoluted harmonic maze, constantly modulating and playfully cavorting, yet always returning to its original motif and key. The result is a feeling of expansive and deep childlike joy that is the hallmark of McFerrin's best work. Throughout the album, McFerrin's voice can be heard weaving and ducking, sometimes coming to the foreground for a moment, but the focus on this outing is clearly on the compositions, not Bobby's virtuosity.
Other highlights include "Say Ladeo," a joyous romp with an infectious chorus that comes as close to a pop tune as anything gets on the album. It's a pretty thing that would be a pleasure to hear on the radio, although in this day and age it is unlikely that a gorgeous a cappella confection such as this will hit the top 40 (as "Don't Worry, Be Happy" once did), even in the pared down version found on YouTube.
Another surprise is the elegiac "Brief Eternity," the album's closer. It is a serious piece of Western classical music, supported here by string orchestra, winds, and harp. Treece's impressionistic orchestration evokes Debussy's Nocturnes, especially "Sirenes," occasionally bringing to mind contemporary composer John Tavener's chorale sonorities. A spiritual longing permeates this lush piece, rising to quiet ecstasy in its satisfying finale.
The most profound piece for this listener is "Messages," a tour de force that effortlessly serves up elements of Eastern European, Central Asian, Middle Eastern, and Western classical in a rich contrapuntal stew, seasoned with odd meters and exotic percussion. It is in this sophisticated composition that one begins to hear what may be a glimpse into the future of 21st century music, a future in which separate world music traditions come together as equals, each having its own unique voice, blending into a unified chorus in perfect harmony.
Considering the state of the world today, where civil discourse is becoming archaic, nations squabble with one another like ill-tempered children, and the heart of barbarism still shapes the body politic in many countries, Bobby McFerrin has given us a profound vision of a utopian society in which all members are respected and valued, a future where beauty and peace reign supreme.